Sunday 26 July 2015

Terror attacks claim 39 lives as tensions rise in Turkey

People carry the coffins of Suruç bombing victims through Gaziantep. Photo: Bülent Kılıç /AFP

39 people have been killed in Turkey during the past week as a result of attacks by Daesh (ISIL) and the PKK, including 32 murdered by a suicide bomber in Suruç.

The bloody developments have resulted in mass arrests, with some 590 suspected terrorists taken into custody since Thursday. It’s also prompted the Turkish government to change tact in Syria. Since Friday, Turkish jets have been bombing the two terror groups’ strongholds in Iraq and Syria, while the Americans have been given the green light to use the İncirlik airbase for their air strikes. 

Suruç activists planning to build a playground & day centre when bomber struck, killing 32 & wounding 104

On Monday 20 July, 32 people were killed and 104 wounded when a Daesh operative detonated his bombs in the Amara Cultural Centre in Suruç where political activists were holding a press briefing. The town is next to the Syrian border in southeast Turkey and had become home to hundreds of Syrian refugees from neighbouring Kobane.

The victims of the blast, mainly university-aged who were members of Turkey’s Federation of Socialist Youth Associations, had come together from different parts of the country with the intention of crossing the border from Suruç to Kobane to help rebuild the town recently liberated from Daesh by Kurdish forces. Their first project was to be a children’s playground and day centre with a library.
30 of the 32 Suruç victims, most were university students
Among the victims was Hatice Ezgi Saadet, a History of Arts student at Mimar Sinan University. 18-year-old Okan Pirinç, Süleyman Aksu, an English teacher from Yüksekova, 22-year Van University student Yunus Emre Şen, 65-year-old HDP activist Cemil Yıldız, Ferdane Kılıç, who was on HDP’s Executive Committee, and her son Nartan Kılıç, and Ismet Şeker whose son Mustafa Can Şeker had been killed fighting against Daesh forces in Kobane.

The full list of Suruç victims can be seen here 

Both Suruç & Diyarbakır bombers from Adıyaman

The Turkish authorities identified the Suruç suicide bomber as Şeyh Abdurrahman Alagöz, a 20-year-old student from the neighbouring southeast province of Adıyaman. The university student, an ethnic Kurd, was reported missing by his family last year who feared he was being groomed by Daesh militants.

Şeyh Abdurrahman disappeared along with his older brother Yusuf, who had run a tea shop in their home town where it is believed Daesh sympathisers regularly met. The Turkish security forces tracked the brothers down to Syria in January 2015. According to news reports in Turkish daily Hürriyet, they had joined Daesh forces there where they underwent training in bomb-making before illegally crossing back into Turkey.

The pair are believed to be from the same group as Orhan Gönder, who was arrested last month on suspicion of planting two bombs at HDP’s big Diyarbakır pre-election rally on 5th June, which killed four people and wounded 404 people. 20-year-old Gönder is also from Adıyaman and ethnically Kurdish, although his family are practicing Alevis, so his joining Daesh, whose members follow an extreme and distorted form of Sunni Islam, is surprising.
Daesh militant Orhan Gönder arrested for bombing HDP’s Diyarbakır rally in June that killed 4 & wounded over 400
Following the Suruç bombing, the Turkish government has stepped up border security with Syria. On Thursday, Turkish troops exchanged fire with Daesh in Kilis during which Sergeant Mehmet Yalçın Nane was shot dead, while two Turkish soldiers were injured. 

Turkish government criticised

The events on Monday have shocked Turkey and many, including the main opposition party, CHP, have criticised the Turkish government for not declaring a national day of mourning. The fact that the government had announced three days of mourning when Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah died in January, while ignoring the mass loss of live of its own citizens has incensed many.

They are also angry at the government’s seeming indifference to the growing threat posed by Daesh in Turkey, where young people are being recruited with ease by the jihadists.

A day before the Suruç bombing, on the final day of Ramazan Bayramı, Turkish media reported that around 1,000 Turkish supporters of the radical Islamist group had gathered at a picnic site in Ömerli, a neighbourhood in Istanbul, to perform prayers. The event was led by Halis Bayancuk, also known as Abu Hanzala, who is believed to run the Al Qaeda network Turkey. After prayers, he allegedly called on supporters to engage in war to bring about Sharia Law in Turkey.

Bayancuk was arrested last year following wiretapped conversations where he was heard to say after Syria’s fall to Daesh, Istanbul would be next’, but he was released without charge.

Halis Bayancuk one of 590 people arrested following crackdown by authorities on militant groups

Some commentators have gone further, accusing the Turkish authorities of not only failing to check Daesh in Turkey, but also of actively supporting them as part of Turkey’s foreign policy to topple Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. Global public opinion demands the elimination of Daesh following the release of harrowing videos and eye-witness accounts detailing their barbarism. Yet in the eyes of the Turkish government, Assad remains the primary force of evil in the region.

In January 2014, Turkish gendarmeries stopped trucks operated by Turkey’s intelligence services MİT in Adana, near the Syrian border. While MİT had claimed the convoy was carrying aid to Turkmen refugees, the gendarmeries uncovered weapons which they suspected were being sent to opposition groups in Syria, including al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. The government immediately imposed a media blackout on the discovery and removed the prosecutor overseeing the investigation, while blocking any further efforts to investigate the incident. 

Kobane the source of tensions in Turkey since 2014

The events in Kobane are offered as further “proof” by critics of the Turkish government’s supposed pro-Daesh, anti-Kurdish agenda. The border town has been the scene of fierce fighting since 2014, as Kurdish guerrilla forces tried to save Syrian Kurds from the onslaught of the blood-lusting Islamists.

In a single fortnight last October, some 150,000 Syrian civilians made their way to refugee camps Turkey in to escape Daesh’s deadly advances in Kobane. Many shared graphic details about the brutal killings and rape inflicted on them. While the world watched and the international community pressed Ankara to act, the Turkish authorities refused to engage in military combat with Daesh or to create a safe corridor to enable Turkish Kurds to join their Syrian brethren in the desperate battle to keep the jihadist forces at bay.

Both the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu vehemently refute all accusations about them being pro-Daesh and anti-Kurdish.

Following Monday’s bombing, Davutoğlu told reporters in Suruç that, "Turkey and AK Party governments have never had any direct or indirect links with any terrorist group and have never showed tolerance to any terrorist group."

PM Ahmet Davutoğlu criticised for his handling of the growing threat from Daesh

The reassurances by the government have not been enough to appease the tensions between AKP loyalists and those furious over the government’s policies in Syria. Last year, some 40 people were killed as nationalist Kurds clashed with Sunni Kurds in 35 provinces. There are fears that the Suruç bombing and the new spate of killings by the PKK this week could spawn new bloody clashes between the opposing groups. 

PKK resumes armed campaign in Turkey, killing 6 in a week

On 12 July, the armed wing of the PKK, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, announced that their ceasefire was over. Following a call from its jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK had put down their arms at the end of 2012 to help with the peace process that was under way between the government and nationalist Kurdish MPs in the Turkish Parliament.

With the peace process now stalled and the Turkish government reverting to a more nationalist position in the run-up to June’s General Election, coupled with the events in Kobane, the ending of the ceasefire was anticipated.

PKK victim Corporal Müsellim Ünal, gunned down in Adıyaman
A week after its announcement, the PKK claimed its first victim when it gunned down Corporal Müsellim Ünal in Adıyaman.

Two days later, the PKK admitted to killing two Turkish police officers, Okan Acar and Feyyaz Yumuşak, who were both shot in their head at the apartment they shared in Ceylanpınar, in Şanlıurfa province. The PKK accused the officers of collaborating with Daesh.

The following day police officer Tansu Aydın was shot by the PKK while performing traffic duties in Diyarbakır.

On Thursday, a local police station in Bismil, Diyarbakır, was fire-bombed, injuring seven officers. Separately two officers patrolling in a water cannon vehicle in the Karşıyaka neighbourhood of Şemdinli, in Hakkari, were hit by a rocket injuring both, one seriously.

Late last night, a car bomb struck a military vehicle in Lice, in Diyarbakır province, killing two soldiers and wounding four others in an attack the authorities have blamed on Kurdish rebels. 

HDP accused of double standards over terror attacks

While the HDP has condemned the deaths of the soldiers and police officers, they have shied away from criticising the PKK, even though the terror group has publicly claimed responsibility for the deaths. As a result, the party has been slammed by the government and opposition parties for its double standards over terror attacks.

Many commentators believe the party is now at a critical crossroad. Its recent electoral success had seen HDP attract votes beyond its traditional nationalist Kurdish supporters, helping to carry it into the Turkish Parliament. They now have to choose to denounce all violence and pursue a path of peaceful negotiations, which will garner them greater support inside and outside of Turkey. Or they may prefer to stay loyal to their Kurdish nationalist roots and the PKK and risk reducing their political influence and electoral support base.

Selahattin Demirtaş & his party HDP under pressure to denounce PKK violence

Turkey’s resolve against terrorist attacks grows

While HDP deliberate, the government has been fast and firm in its response to the growing security risks at home and across the border. The Turkish authorities have arrested members of Daesh and the PKK, along with those belonging to the radical Marxist-Leninist group DHKP-C.

The have also changed strategy along the Syrian border, with security stepped up. There are also discussions about building a 500-mile long wall to try to limit the easy access terrorists currently enjoy along the porous border. More significantly, since Friday Turkish jets have been pounding both PKK and Daesh strongholds in Syria and northern Iraq.

Turkey allows USA to use Incirlik Air Base for air strikes against Daesh. Photo: Vadim Ghirda / Associated Press
In his regular column for Daily Sabah, AKP’s senior advisor İbrahim Kalın said, “The immediate goal is to clear Turkish-Syrian border from ISIS and other security threats. Securing the border is critical for both Turkey and for the moderate Syrian opposition including the FSA. It will also help the Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS's barbarism and the barrel bombs and the militia violence of the Assad regime.”

He also counters claims that Turkey is not doing enough to combat Daesh, asserting that the Turkish authorities have a good track record in stopping the flow of foreign terrorists into Syria. He states that in the past seven months, Turkey has detained more than 500 Turkish citizens and expelled some 1,600 foreigners suspected of pro-Daesh activities, while preventing a further 15,000 foreign supporters of Daesh from entering Turkey.  

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