The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) – a London based think tank – published a piece I wrote about the recent suicide bombing in Ankara. I have posted a portion of the article below. If interested in reading the entire piece, click here.
On 1 February 2013 Ecevit Sanli, a member of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a leftist organisation with a history of terror attacks in Turkey, detonated a suicide vest at a service entrance for the American embassy in Ankara. The initial reports rekindled the memories of the two Al-Qa’ida linked bomb attacks at the British Consulate, the headquarters of HSBC, and two Synagogues in Istanbul in 2003. The speedy investigation, however, revealed that the bomber is tied to Turkey’s leftist fringe, rather than a radical Islamist terror group. In a statement released after the attack, the DHKP-C claimed that the bombing was in retaliation for ‘American imperialism occupying our [Turkish] land’ and accused Turkey of being an American lackey that is blindly implementing the United States’ imperialist policies in Syria.
Within hours, Turkish officials had released the attacker’s name, claimed to have positively identified the suicide bomber via a fingerprint and a distinguishing mark, and made clear that both Turkey and the US are united in their fight against terror. Sanli was a known member of the DHKP-C and had served time in a Turkish prison. While incarcerated, Sanli participated in a hunger strike (described as a ‘death fast’ in Turkish), which resulted in his contracting Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
This in turn, prompted former Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer to amnesty Sanli and the other prisoners who had fallen ill while participating in hunger strikes in 2001. After his release, Sanli, while still under probation, slipped over the Syrian border and made his way to Germany, where he soon came under investigation by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. The investigation did not result in an arrest and Sanli was able to enter Turkey via a ferry from the Greek Islands in recent weeks.
In the wake of the attack, Prime Minister Erdogan has used the DHKP-C’s presence in Germany to chastise Europe for what he perceives as lenient laws that have allowed terrorist groups to operate with relative impunity on the continent. Thus, Erdogan is drawing a link between the Embassy bombing and Turkey’s decades old complaint that Brussels is far too lenient on Kurdish groups tied to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) based in Europe.
However, he has thus far refrained from making a direct connection, choosing only to use language that emphasises the need to combat terror in all forms. The Prime Minister’s rhetoric is a reflection of his domestic political agenda, which has once again begun to focus on resolving Turkey’s fight with the PKK. Moreover, he has also made an effort to downplay any links to the AKP’s Syria policy, which remains unpopular.
The bombing has, however, allowed the Prime Minster to defend his government’s heavy-handed anti-terror policies. Shortly after the attack, Prime Minister Erdogan criticised the media for the portrayal of the recent crackdown on the DHKP-C. The raids were typically wide in scope and included the arresting of some of the group’s lawyers, which in turn led to media criticisms of Turkey’s human rights and anti-terror laws. The timing of the bombing has led to some speculation that the attack was in retaliation for the police raids. However, given the group’s history of violence, as well as its numerous attacks against American targets, it appears unlikely that one event led to the other.
Nevertheless, Washington is likely to take a harder look at Turkey’s terror policies, as well as the intelligence and political failures that prompted Sanli’s release and his subsequent fleeing of the country.
The United States is likely to quietly seethe about Turkey’s failure to monitor his movements once he was released and the lack of precautions taken once the government was made aware of intelligence pointing to a potential attack, but it is unlikely that the event will seriously damage US – Turkish relations. The bomb was relatively small and the fall-out was limited to the immediate entrance. Thus, the official US reaction will likely be limited to testaments about the strength of the US – Turkish alliance and a public show of support and grief for the family of Mustafa Akarsu, the security guard that was killed in the explosion, as well as for Didem Tuncay, the Turkish journalist wounded in the attack.
To finish reading the piece and to get my perspective on how the bombing may impact the PKK talks, click here.