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Car bomb kills two outside courthouse in Turkish city of İzmir

A car bomb has exploded outside a courthouse in western Turkey, killing two people and wounding at least five, less than a week after a massacre in an Istanbul nightclub killed 39 revellers and left the country on edge.

Turkish authorities said two alleged gunmen were killed in a shootout following the attack in the city of İzmir. A third man is believed to have escaped. The city had been the scene of raids connected to the Istanbul attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State terror group.

The latest attack comes days after the end of an especially deadly year in Turkey, in which 275 people were killed in terror attacks and more than 1,000 maimed, according to Turkish media.

Kurdish militants have also intensified their deadly insurgency in recent months and the smaller scale of the attack, as well as the choice of target, led some officials to suggest it was carried out by one of several Kurdish militant groups. Provincial governor Erol Ayyıldız blamed Thursday’s carnage on the most prominent of them, the PKK.

Isis attacks in Turkey have focused on soft civilian targets and political rallies, whereas strikes by groups such as the PKK have typically targeted police officers and soldiers, as well as state institutions.

Ayyıldız said the gunfight occurred when police officers tried to stop a vehicle at a checkpoint and that the attackers detonated the car bomb while trying to escape. Arms including Kalashnikov rifles, hand grenades and ammunition for rocket-propelled grenade launchers were found at the scene, he said.

Images from the scene showed one suspect attacker apparently dead on the ground, still clutching an assault rifle. A video taken as the attack unfolded shows the flash of an explosion from a car. A burst of gunfire can be heard on other footage taken after the blast.

A police officer and court employee were killed, said Turkish deputy prime minister Veysi Kaynak, adding that the weapons found at the scene suggested that a much larger attack had been foiled. “Based on the preparation, the weapons, bombs and ammunition seized, it is understood that a big atrocity was being planned,” Kaynak told reporters.

The focus of the manhunt for the Istanbul gunman, who escaped after mowing down 39 people with an AK-47 in a seven minute rampage, had turned towards İzmir on Wednesday, when 20 members of the Uighur ethnic minority were arrested by counter terrorism police. After initially suspecting the gunman to be from Kyrgyzstan, officials now believe he may be a Uighur. Authorities say some of those arrested had travelled from China’s Xinjiang region.

Intelligence officials are also working on a separate theory that the attacker is from Uzbekistan. Either way, he is believed to have spent time in the central Turkish city of Konya, through where many of those to have launched attacks in Turkey are thought to have transited. European intelligence officials have long believed that Konya has been home to an Isis cell that has taken direct instruction from the group’s senior leaders inside Syria and also acts as a reception base for jihadis travelling beyond Turkey’s borders.

Turkey has stepped up its efforts to curb Isis inside its frontier and in Syria, where Turkish tanks and troops are supporting Syrian rebels as they push towards the town of al-Bab - a vitally important hub for Isis, where its external operations arm has been based for the past three years.

After using Turkish borders to cross into Syria and Iraq from mid-2012, Isis has increasingly turned its guns on Turkey, which it accuses of allying with western interests as the military push to defeat it steps up in Iraq and Syria.

Efforts to fight Kurdish groups, especially the PKK, have also intensified, with Ankara believing that the Kurds are using the chaos of Syria to advance a four-decade goal of self-determination in south-eastern Turkey.

In December, two bombs outside a football stadium in Istanbul killed 44 people, most of them police officers. The TAK – an offshoot of the PKK – claimed responsibility for what was the deadliest strike against security forces in several decades. Days earlier, a bomb on a bus in central Turkey killed 13 soldiers and wounded more than 50.