IZMIR, Turkey — Suspected Kurdish militants on Thursday opened fire at police who stopped them at a checkpoint in the western city of Izmir before detonating their explosives-laden vehicle, the province's governor said. A policeman and a courthouse employee were killed in the attack while two assailants were shot dead.
Gov. Erol Ayyildiz said preliminary indications pointed to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has carried out a string of attacks in the past year and a half, mainly targeting Turkey's security forces. Islamic State militants have also carried several deadly attacks in the country.
"The information so far suggests it is the PKK. Such a conclusion was reached after we assessed the attack and ID'd the people," Ayyildiz said.
The governor did not refer to earlier reports that a third attacker was on the run.
Ayyildiz said the attackers were carrying two automatic rifles, rocket launchers and eight hand grenades.
The attack occurred near a courthouse in Izmir's Bayrakli district, close to an entrance used by judges, prosecutors and other employees. Police detonated a second vehicle found near the scene of the incident.
Ayyildiz said "six or seven" people were also wounded in the attack, adding that police vigilance had foiled a possible more serious attack.
"When you look at the preparations they had made, the weapons that were seized, the bombs and the ammunition, it is clear that a big massacre was planned," said Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak. "Praise God, they were not successful."
Earlier, Turkey's state-run news agency said police were looking for a third suspect who was on the run, described as wearing a black coat and a white beret.
The incident follows a string of attacks, carried out by IS or Kurdish militants, which have left Turkey on edge.
Thirty-nine people were killed in a nightclub attack in Istanbul during New Year's celebrations. The IS group claimed that attack which it said was a reprisal for Turkey's military operations in Syria. On Wednesday, police had detained some 20 people in Izmir believed to have links to the nightclub attacker who is still at large.
The PKK, which has been fighting an insurgency since 1984, resumed attacks in Turkey after a fragile peace process with the government collapsed in 2015. The group is considered a terror organization by Turkey and its western allies.
Kaynak suggested the attacks aimed to deter Turkey from its fight against the PKK in Iraq — where it regularly carries out air raids — as well as its military incursion in northern Syria where it is fighting the IS and taking steps to curb territorial advances of the Syrian Kurdish forces.
"Turkey will remain effective in the region where it is present," Kaynak said. "They will never prevent us from being present in Syria and in Iraq, which are like germ-infested nests."
As with other attacks, the prime minister's office imposed a news blackout restricting coverage of the attack, citing public order and national security concerns.
Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Cinar Kiper in Istanbul contributed to this report.
Neyran Elden, The Associated Press