ISTANBUL—Islamic militants have stepped up their assault on the Syrian border town of Kobani, challenging once again the American-led efforts to help defend it from the air.
On Saturday fighters from the so-called Islamic State launched five suicide bomb attacks and used tanks to shell Kurdish defenses on the west of the besieged town. Kurdish commanders claimed the jihadists used Turkish territory to mount one of the suicide attacks—the Turkish government has been accused of favoring the Islamic militants—but Ankara flatly denied that was the case.
The redoubled offensive began when a suicide bomber driving an armored vehicle detonated his explosives on the main border crossing between Kobani and Turkey, says Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party. He claimed fighters from the self-styled Islamic State, widely known as ISIS or ISIL, also used grain silos just inside Turkey in the assault. The militants “used to attack the town from three sides,” Khalil said. “Today, they are attacking from four sides.”
Idris Nassan, a Kurdish official in Kobani, said the first car bomb killed two people. He said two suicide efforts to the south of the town were halted with Kurdish fighters killing the bombers before they could reach their targets inside the town.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition activist network, seconded the Kurdish claims about ISIS using Turkish territory and said more than 40 fighters on both sides died in the renewed fighting.
But Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s vehemently dismissed the accusations that jihadists had launch a bombing run from Turkey saying Turkish security forces were maintaining “all necessary precautions” along the border.
This isn’t the first time Turkey has been accused of laxity policing the ten-mile stretch of the border facing Kobani. Local Turkish-Kurdish farmers have been reporting for weeks that they see militants slip back and forth, especially to the west of the mainly Kurdish town, and Kurdish activists have photographed ISIS fighters apparently fraternizing with Turkish soldiers at the final Turkish border fence, which would put them, officially, inside Turkey. Jihadists have been spotted before firing from the grain silos north of the battered town in a border zone where the demarcations are not entirely clear.
Launching a suicide attack from Turkish territory would be a first, however, and European security sources monitoring the fighting questioned the accusation. They say it’s unlikely the suicide bomber who mounted the attack close to the border gate started out from Turkey. More likely he drove parallel to the border on the Syrian side before detonating the explosives.
For Ankara to allow a suicide bomber through to launch a flagrant attack at this moment also would appear to be odd timing. Peace negotiations between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, have picked up in recent days. The imprisoned leader of the outlawed PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, told a delegation of Kurdish politicians visiting him at his prison on Imrali Island off the coast of Istanbul that a peace deal to end the decades-old Kurdish insurgency in Turkey might be attainable in the next four or five months, if negotiations are handled with determination.
The weekend clashes in Kobani, where jihadists first launched an offensive in mid-September, capturing almost half of the town as well as dozens of nearby Kurdish villages, marks an escalation in the fighting. Redoubled U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on the Islamic militants had assisted the Kurdish fighters along with Syrian rebel reinforcements and a detachment of Iraqi Kurds to push the jihadists back.
At the weekend U.S. warplanes again launched airstrikes on jihadists fighters in Kobani and mounted 30 air strikes on against the ISIS stronghold in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa.