Aug 26, 5:07 PM EDT

Kurdish militants claim deadly car bomb attack in Turkey



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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- A Kurdish suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden truck into a checkpoint near a police station Friday in southeast Turkey, killing at least 11 police officers and wounding 78 other people, the prime minister said.

The attack struck the checkpoint 50 meters (yards) from a main police station near the town of Cizre, in the mainly-Kurdish Sirnak province that borders Syria. Television footage showed black smoke rising from the mangled truck and the three-story police station gutted from the powerful explosion.

Rebels linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK claimed the attack - the latest in a string of bombings by the group targeting police or military vehicles and facilities.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim vowed to "destroy the terrorists."

"No terrorist organization can take the Turkish Republic hostage," he told reporters in Istanbul. "We will give these scoundrels every response they deserve."

"This attack, which comes at a time when Turkey is engaged in an intense struggle against terrorist organizations both within and outside its borders, only serves to increase our determination as a country and a nation," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price condemned the attack and said that, if confirmed, it is just one in a disturbing string of attacks by the PKK.

"We remain steadfast in our support for Turkey, a NATO Ally and partner that continues to be afflicted by terrorist attacks indiscriminately targeting both security personnel and civilians," he said in a statement.

Turkey has sent tanks across the Syrian border following weeks of deadly attacks by the PKK and the Islamic State group. The operation aims to help Syrian rebels retake Jarablus, a key IS-held border town, and to contain the expansion of Syrian Kurdish militia who are linked to the PKK.

Heightened PKK attacks inside Turkey could prompt Turkey to take bolder moves against the Syrian Kurds. On Thursday, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported that Turkish artillery fired at Syrian Kurdish fighters who were advancing north toward Jarablus despite Turkish warnings for them to retreat.

In a statement on the website of the PKK's military wing, the militant group said the Cizre attack was in retaliation to jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's "isolation" on his prison island off Istanbul. The rebel leader has been denied visits since April 2015, as a peace process between the PKK and the government began to falter.

Violence between the PKK and the security forces resumed last year, after the collapse the two-year peace process in July. Hundreds of security force members, militants and even civilians have been killed since.

At the same time, Turkey has been afflicted by deadly attacks blamed on Islamic State militants, including a suicide bombing at a Kurdish wedding in southeast Turkey last week that killed 54 people and an attack on Istanbul's main airport in June that killed 44 people.

According to the Sirnak governor's office, three of those wounded in Friday's attack were civilians.

Cizre was placed under 24-hour curfew for several weeks earlier this year as the security forces launched operations to root out Kurdish militants.

Since hostilities with the PKK resumed last summer, more than 600 Turkish security personnel and thousands of PKK militants have been killed, according to the Anadolu Agency. Human rights groups say hundreds of civilians have also been killed.

The PKK is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its allies. Some 40,000 people have been killed since the conflict started in 1984.

The attacks on police come as the country is still reeling from a violent coup attempt on July 15 that killed at least 270 people. The government has blamed the failed coup on the supporters of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and has embarked on a sweeping crackdown on his followers.

On Thursday, Kurdish rebels opened fire at security forces protecting a convoy carrying Turkey's main opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the northeast, killing a soldier and wounding two others, officials said. The rebel statement Friday said the target of the attack was Turkey's security forces, not Kilicdaroglu.

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Associated Press writers Dusan Stojanovic and Cinar Kiper in Istanbul and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed.

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