Terror hits Istanbul again

Turkey has suffered another deadly terrorist attack in Istanbul. Each attack adds not only to the list of dead and wounded, but also to the growing anxiety within Turkey that the wars in Syria, Iraq and the country’s southeast are making their way into the lives of everyday people. Chief Editor Gary Lakes reports.

A powerful car bomb targeting a police vehicle exploded in central Istanbul on June 7 killing seven policemen, four civilians and wounding 36 other people. This is the third terrorist bombing in central Istanbul since January. The Turkish capital, Ankara, has been the target of two deadly terrorist car bombings since the start of the year. Other bombings have occurred in several other Turkish cities during the last six months, and on June 8 a car bomb at police headquarters in Midyat killed two policemen and wounded several others. Last year Turkey suffered a number of terrorist bombings, the deadliest of which occurred in Ankara on October 10 that killed 103 people.

Aftermath of terrorist bombing targeting police vehicle. [Hurriyet]
Aftermath of terrorist bombing targeting police vehicle. [Hurriyet]
Turkish police detained four suspects on June 7 but as yet no group has claimed responsibility for the Istanbul attack. In the past, Islamic State and the Kurdish Freedom Falcons (TAK) have claimed responsibility for bombings that are having an increasingly unsettling effect on the country, making it clear that Turkey is being drawn deeper into the conflict with Islamic State (Daesh) in Syria and Iraq and the war with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey’s southeast.

According to a non-Turkish source in Istanbul, the PKK carried out the attack and will use the TAK – “which doesn’t exist as an independent organization” – to claim responsibility.

“The targeting and the MO [modus operandi] fits the PKK pattern,” the source said, reasoning that the way the news of the bombing was reported on the PKK websites followed the usual format “for when the writers think that it is a PKK attack.”

“PKK unit commanders have a degree of operational autonomy and the PKK high command is rarely informed beforehand of the details of the planned attacks,” the source told Global Sources Magazine. “For example, the initial report claimed that ‘local sources’ said that the number of police officers killed was considerably higher than the official toll of seven. The PKK would not try to boost the death toll for the security forces if the high command thought the attack was carried out by Islamic State.”

Another source in Istanbul told GSM that frustration is growing with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), which is tasked with preventing terrorist attacks. And there is also growing criticism for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for its seeming inability to address the security issue.

“The October 2015 attack brought a lot of criticism to the MIT for its inability to detect and pre-empt radical Islamic terrorism, despite massive resources and an annual budget of half a billion dollars granted by the AKP,” the source said, adding that the MIT “is only continuing its dismal record.”

The car bomb exploded in the Beyazit district, near Istanbul university, the Suleymaniye mosque and the Grand Bazaar. [Hurriyet]
The car bomb exploded in the Beyazit district, near Istanbul university, the Suleymaniye mosque and the Grand Bazaar. [Hurriyet]
The source said there are elements in Turkey’s military that see the MIT as responsible for mismanagement of assets belonging to the Joint Staff Electronic Systems Command (GES), which were under military control until 2012 and is now part of the MIT. The critics accuse the MIT of causing intelligence failures such as the Uludere massacre in 2011 when 34 Turkish cigarette smugglers were killed by an air strike, having been mistaken for PKK guerrillas, Syria’s downing of a Turkish spy plane in 2012, and last year’s downing of a Russia jet, which led to swift deterioration in relations between Ankara and Moscow. These elements are now calling for GES to be returned to the military.

“But this is not expected to happen anytime soon,” the source said.

GES was an organic part of every military coup that has occurred in modern Turkey, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not expected to return any power to the military, having worked so diligently to take that power away.

Evidence of the force of the blast. [Hurriyet]
Evidence of the force of the blast. [Hurriyet]
“Erdogan’s purge of Gulenists in the Turkish police is almost complete and he has now started to purge Gulenists in the Turkish Gendarmerie, which remains part of the Turkish military,” the source said. “Two gendarmerie generals were recently arrested on charges of spying for Gulen. The last thing he would want to do is make eavesdropping assets available to Gulenists again.”

(Muhammed Fethullah Gulen is a Turkish-born, now Pennsylvania-based Sunni Muslim teacher who advocates a belief in science, inter-faith dialogue and multi-party democracy. He was once a close political ally to Erdogan, but since Gulenist elements in Turkey’s police force exposed a corruption scandal within the Turkish government that involved close associates of the president, Gulen has been on Erdogan’s most-wanted list, along with all his supporters in Turkey.)

According to the source, Turkey is in the process of establishing its own space-based surveillance system. The source said Turkey’s first military reconnaissance satellite, Gokturk-2, is producing “actionable intelligence” for use against the PKK and there are plans to improve its resolution to 50 centimeters from 250 centimeters at present. Furthermore, Turkey is commissioning a new SAR reconnaissance high-resolution satellite, Gokturk-3, that will be placed in orbit in 2019.

On the Turkish street, however, there are reports of growing discontent with President Erdogan over terrorist attacks that seem to be striking deeper into the heart of Turkish society each time they occur.

Eleven dead, 36 wounded in the blast, mostly civilians. [Hurriyet]
Eleven dead, 36 wounded in the explosion, mostly civilians. [Hurriyet]
“The main critics are the Kurdish nationalists, who hold Erdogan himself solely responsible because he abrogated the dialogue with the PKK in March 2015 and refuses to countenance any return to talks,” a source informed GMS. “While the dialogue continued there was at least a significant decline in casualties.”

“The second set of critics are CHP (Republican People’s Party) supporters – and some AKP voters – who dislike the PKK but still hold Erdogan primarily responsible for the current violence because he halted the talks and refuses to consider their resumption,” the source said.

“The third – and most dangerous – group of critics consist of Turkish ultra-nationalists who hold Erdogan responsible for ‘strengthening’ the PKK by agreeing to negotiate with them in the first place, and [they] now criticize him for not taking the necessary measures to crush the organization completely,” the source said.

For his part, Erdogan visited the survivors of the terrorist attack in hospital on June 7 and later vowed to continue the country’s fight against terrorism “until the end.”

[Hurriyet]
Coping with the aftermath. The end looks nowhere near. [Hurriyet]

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