Turkey is still reeling from the worst-ever single terrorist attack conducted on its soil: Twin suicide bombers killed more than 100 at a peace rally sponsored by Kurds, labor leaders, and civil society groups in the center of Ankara, Turkey’s capital. In the wake of the bombing, both Kurds and many Kemalists pointed the finger at the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his figurehead Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu; blaming them for, if not being directly culpability, than for turning a blind eye to Islamic State activity inside Turkey. (The Islamic State has long relied on Turkey for safe-haven, for supply, as a logistical hub and as, for lack of a better word, a rest-and-relaxation destination).
While Erdoğan has ordered Turkish publications not to report on the investigation, Turks knowledgeable of the investigation are increasingly fleshing out some of the details that highlight just how much the buck should stop with Erdoğan.
In short, here’s where things stand: The Turkish government has ‘officially’ identified one of the Ankara bombers (even though the media announced his name within hours of the event, before the ban on reporting on the incident). He had travelled between Turkey and Syria several times as an ardent and unapologetic supporter of the Islamic State. His brother blew himself up in the earlier Suruç attack that killed 33 people. The Ankara bomber made a phone call from Syria to a third brother in Turkey a few days before returning to Turkey telling him that, “This is the last time I am talking to you. Soon I will join our brother in heaven, where the Prophet will be waiting for us with open arms ….” The police had recorded this phone call but took no action.
The bombers parents had begged the police on several occasions to incarcerate their sons — both the eventual Suruç bomber and the Ankara bomber — because they did not want to lose their sons fighting in Syria or as suicide bombers. Shockingly, there have now been over 100 parents who have filed similar complaints with the police against their sons for activities with the Islamic State; the police have taken no action, nor have they even moved to prevent their sons from traveling back and forth between Turkey and Syria. When the police did intercept one young man crossing the border, they released him because of the “constitutional right to travel freely.” This is especially ironic given recent moves by the Turkish security forces to quarantine towns like Cizre and Nusaybin, refusing to let Kurdish residents in or out with not even necessary kidney dialysis as an excuse to leave town.
In another case, a father talked directly with Davutoğlu who promised to look into the matter; he did nothing. Indeed, when one young man took his wife into Syria with him, Davutoğlu quipped, “Good. They can take care of each other better.” When Davutoğlu was asked about the neglect and lax behavior of the security forces shown to the Ankara bomber, he responded that they could not detain or arrest people before an illegal act was committed. This is absurd given how Turkish authorities have arrested journalists, generals, and civil society leaders absent any evidence of criminal behavior beyond suspicion of opposing Erdoğan’s agenda. Indeed, in recent months, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu have sought to prosecute “thought crimes,” albeit only in cases where the thought opposed their agenda. In addition, Turkey has long relied on a law that defines membership in a terrorist group as criminal and prosecutable. Erdoğan has only applied this law, however, to Kurds — both those allegedly supportive of the PKK and those supporting the Kurdish militias in Syria fighting the Islamic State.
In addition, the parliament — dominated by Erdoğan’s political party — passed a law last year that changed police detention rules from “strong” suspicion to “reasonable” suspicion. This allowed pre-emptive detention of many activists before a protest or peace rallies.
The simple problem is this: Despite all of Turkey’s diplomatic promises, neither Erdoğan nor Davutoğlu nor any of their minions in parliament considers the Islamic State to be a terrorist group. In one trial in Gaziantep of an Islamic State sympathizer, the court asked the Interior Ministry if the Islamic State was listed among the official list of terrorist organizations. They first received a negative answer, although this was corrected to note that the United Nations considered the Islamic State to be a terrorist organization. There has now been a crackdown on suspected ISIL cells in Gaziantep in the last few days, and large quantities of explosives were found along with suicide vests. Gaziantep is the city where the recent Ankara bombers crossed the border and were brought to Ankara by local collaborators.
The second Ankara bomber’s name has been identified in the media but officially he is yet an unidentified foreigner. If the media is right, he is again a son whose parents complained and even begged numerous times to the police and Interior Ministry for their son to be caught and put behind bars.
There have been attempts by Davutoğlu, Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), their media, and those inside and outside Turkey on the AKP gravy train to somehow link Kurdish groups with Ankara bombings. Davutoğlu referred to this as “cocktail terror” for the supposed cooperation, this is despite the fact that most of the people killed were Kurds or other proponents in the peace rally.
So what can be done? It’s time to put Turkey on notice: No more empty diplomatic rhetoric. Turkey should have a stark choice: Crack down on the Islamic State, or be considered a state sponsor of terror. Not only U.S. diplomatic credibility is at stake, but also Turkish lives, for the blow back Turkey now risks from its flirtation with the Islamic State risks undermining Turkey’s security and stability like nothing else in recent memory.