Conflict & Justice

Turkey admits to mistake in air strike that killed Kurdish smugglers (VIDEO)

Turkey has admitted to mistaking Kurdish smugglers for terrorists in an air strike near the Iraq border that killed 35 civilians on Thursday, Al Jazeera reported.

A spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party, Huseyin Celik, said officials were looking into possible "intelligence failures," adding that the incident could have been an "operational accident" by the Turkish military.

Celik told journalists:

"If it turns out to have been a mistake, a blunder, rest assured that this will not be covered up."

Celik added that it was possible the Turkish government could compensate the victims, Al Jazeera reported.

Turkish forces apparently mistook the smugglers for members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebel group, which seeks to win independence for Kurdistan by carrying out terrorist attacks in Turkey.

More from GlobalPost: Turkish military incursion into Iraq after PKK rebels kill soldiers

Ertan Eris, from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, said that the victims had been smuggling gas and sugar into Turkey from northern Iraq.

A statement by the Turkish military staff said warplanes had targeted an unpopulated area inside northern Iraq on Wednesday night, after receiving information that PKK rebels planned to attack Turkish security bases.

However, Dogan news agency reported that the strike took place in south-east Turkey, near the Kurdish village of Uludere in Sirnak province.

According to security sources quoted by Reuters, the casualties were found on the Iraqi side of the border, along a known smuggling route. They had reportedly been mounted on mules and carrying canisters of diesel when they were killed.

The mayor of Uludere, Fehmi Yaman, told Reuters:

"We have 30 corpses, all of them are burned. The state knew that these people were smuggling in the region. This kind of incident is unacceptable."

Reuters TV footage showed a line of bodies covered by blankets, wept over by crowds of mourners:

According to pro-Kurdish Firat news agency, another 17 people are still missing. All of those killed were aged between 15 and 30, it said.

The governments of Turkey and Iraq have an agreement that allows the Turkish military to pursue Kurdish rebels into Iraq. Turkish forces made a series of air and ground attacks in the area after the PKK killed 24 soldiers in a predominantly Kurdish province in south-east Turkey in October.

More from GlobalPost: Turkey's Kurds step up demands for reform