Difficult questions on the Ankara attack

Difficult questions on the Ankara attack

A bomb blast rocked central Ankara at rush hour on the evening of Feb. 17, killing 28 and wounding 61. Government sources stated that a suicide bomber pulled the trigger on 30 kilos of explosives next to two buses stopped at a red traffic light carrying military and civilian personnel back home from military offices.

After paying a condolence visit to Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar on Feb. 18, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan said 20 of the 28 killed were ranking military officers. He and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu - who had also earlier visited Akar - identified the attacker as Syrian national Salih Neccar, born in the northern town of Amuda in 1992. They said Neccar had links with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the Syrian affiliate of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

Recalling the recent words of Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian regime’s representative at the U.N., who said the Bashar al-Assad regime now supported the PYD and the YPG, Davutoğlu said Ankara held the Syria regime responsible for the attack and reserved its right to retaliate. 

Meanwhile, President Erdoğan said Turkey’s friends and allies would now be able to understand the link of terrorism between the PKK and the PYD/YPG. The latter is trusted by the U.S. as a partner in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and Erdoğan called on Washington twice in the last week to “choose” between the “terrorist” PYD and NATO ally Turkey. 

In response, Washington stressed that Turkey was an ally, but it did not regard the PYD/YPG as a terrorist organization. The U.S. has been outsourcing ground operations in Syria to the PYD/YPG and supporting it with air strikes against ISIL. Russia has also been using the PYD against ISIL and other opposition forces against al-Assad, leading to opposition forces refusing to accept the PYD on their side in the recent Geneva talks.

The ambassadors of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France and China, plus Germany - were invited to the Foreign Ministry on Feb. 18 and presented with documents showing links between the bomber Neccar and the YPG.

Despite the accusations, PYD head Salih Muslim denied responsibility and said he did not recognize the name of the attacker, while PKK military chief Cemil Bayık also said he did not know the details of the attack, while adding that “it could be a retaliation” - mocking Ankara in a way.

After PM Davutoğlu said they identified the attacker because he was carrying an identity card, immediate questions emerged from the Turkish opposition in parliament and on social media. Why would a suicide bomber carry his ID? How on earth could a bomb go off in a supposedly well-protected area, near the parking lot of service buses, next to the Air Force command, within hundreds of meters of the Chief of Staff headquarters and parliament? What’s more, amid reports of new planned suicide bombings in Ankara and Istanbul after the ISIL attack in Ankara on Oct. 10, 2015 (killing 103 people) and the attack in Istanbul on Jan. 13 this year (killing 11 German tourists), what measures had the intelligence services and police taken?

Security sources talking to the Hürriyet Daily News on condition of anonymity said it was not uncommon for suicide bombers to carry IDs. “It’s like signing a letter,” one underlined. 

Neccar, the name revealed by Davutoğlu, first entered Turkey from Syria in July 2014 as a refugee. That was around the same time as the PYD’s resistance in Kobane against ISIL. “If the name is correct, we know that the Neccar family is in contact with the Syrian army intelligence Amn ul-Askeri,” one source said. 

The “early assessment” of Turkish security units is that the attacker’s real target was the Air Force headquarters, which suggests that the blast could be a retaliation to the downing of the Russian jet by a Turkish jet on Nov. 24, 2015. This is one of the scenarios that experts in Ankara have been working on.

The Ankara attack may have considerable consequences for Turkey’s relations with its Western allies, mainly the U.S. It is even possible that Turkey opts to revise its relations with the U.S. and the EU if they continue to back the PYD. 

But lingering questions about the lack of intelligence or police measures still have no satisfying answer, which might also signal certain consequences within the Turkish government, especially in the security bureaucracy.