Did someone mislead the PM about the Ankara bomber?

Did someone mislead the PM about the Ankara bomber?

According to Turkish government spokesman Numan Kurtulmuş, the name of the suicide bomber is irrelevant. The only relevant thing is the fact that the terrorist act on Feb. 17 that killed 29 people (after another injured person lost their life on Feb. 23) in Ankara was carried out by both the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The YPG is the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the Syrian sister of the PKK.

That wasn’t the case on Feb. 18. Back then, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu confidently announced that the suicide bomber was Salih Neccar, born in Syria in 1992 and affiliated with the YPG. Pointing out that the U.N.’s representative for Syria had said a day before that the Bashar al-Assad regime supported both the PYD and the YPG against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Davutoğlu said Damascus was responsible for the attack. 

That had also been stated on Feb. 17 by Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, who once again called on U.S. President Barack Obama to choose between either NATO ally Turkey or “the terrorist PYD.” By then a number of U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, had stressed to Ankara that although Turkey remains an ally, they did not consider the PYD to be a terrorist organization like the PKK and they need the PYD to fight against ISIL in Syria. Turkish security sources say that in confidential meetings U.S. officials have told them that they actually see no difference between the PKK and the PYD – from the joint use of militants to weapons - but they cannot say so in public because of the Obama administration’s policy. 

That difference of opinion over the PYD remained unchanged by the recent one-hour, twenty-minute telephone conversation between Erdoğan and Obama. At almost the same time as that conversation was going on, the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK) - one of the organization names that the PKK uses in its most controversial, mostly suicidal terrorist acts - claimed responsibility for the Ankara attack. According to the TAK, the suicide bomber was Abdülbaki Sönmez. After photos appeared in the media and the father identified his son in the morgue, it was confirmed that the bomber was indeed Abdülbaki Sömer (not Sönmez, perhaps a misspelling on the PKK side), who was born in the Gürpınar district of Turkey’s southeastern province of Van in 1989. 

Security sources now say that Sömer illegally left Turkey and reentered in July 2014, posing as a Syrian refugee and using the fake name Salih Neccar. There had been confusion because Sömer’s fingerprints (taken because some of his fingers were found at the crime scene) were registered by border police under the name Neccar.

Frankly, both the PYD and the TAK are offshoots of the PKK, like a dozen other organizations under different names. Davutoğlu had a point when he said on Feb. 23 that the TAK’s claiming of responsibility may just be an attempt to remove the YPG-PYD from the Ankara bombing equation. However, Davutoğlu himself had contributed to the confusion by declaring the (fake) name of the attacker as the YPG-affiliate Syrian Kurd before he was 100 percent sure that the name and the culprit actually matched.

Official sources in Ankara also believe that Davutoğlu’s revealing of the name might have been “early.” This leads to the question of whether the PM was misled by his team - either the intelligence services, or the police, or his security advisers. Was there anyone around the prime minister who misinformed him on such a sensitive issue, either deliberately or innocently?

Perhaps none of this will change the result, and perhaps it won’t change the nature of the relationship between the PKK and the PYD. Either way, it has not been a success story of crisis management for Ankara.

That was particularly crucial coming at a time when the U.S. and Russia were adding the final touches to their Syrian cease-fire plan, and Turkey could not be at the center of developments.