ISIL attack puts Turkish government in difficulty

ISIL attack puts Turkish government in difficulty

It must have been difficult for the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to feel the need to defend the government against speculations that it had relations with the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), as he strongly condemned the July 20 terrorist bomb attack in the Turkish Syrian-border town of Suruç, which has killed 32 so far and wounded nearly 100 and was “probably” done by ISIL, as the PM said himself.

One of those 32 was probably the suicide bomber, according to Davutoğlu’s statement on July 21. It is up to forensic medicine to make it certain, since the bodies of 31 victims still have physical integrity; DNA tests are being carried out to spot the one that doesn’t. Suspicions rest on a young Turkish citizen who was recruited by ISIL people in Turkey, sent to Syria for on-site training in the Syrian civil war and sent back for the suicide mission against a group of socialist Turkish university students who wanted to cross to the Kurdish-held Syrian town of Kobane to contribute to the reconstruction effort there.

Davutoğlu repeated yesterday that he considered ISIL (which he calls “Daesh”) a threat to the “unity” of Turkey. He said the attack was aimed at the entire Turkish population and those who were responsible would be found as soon as possible. He also repeated his call of the day before, made to the other three parties, for a joint declaration against “all kinds of terrorism.” That call only received one positive reply: from the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Both the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, the two fringe points of the parliamentary spectrum, have turned down the offer of Davutoğlu, instead accusing the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government of laying the ground for this spillover of terrorism from the Syrian civil war into Turkey. 

Yet, Hakul Koç, the spokesman for the CHP, who is also having “exploratory” coalition talks with Ömer Çelik of the AK Parti, strongly criticized the foreign policy, particularly the Syrian policy of the AK Parti, for hugely neglecting the infiltration of Turkey by “radical groups” from Syria, with its aim of toppling the Syrian regime at all costs; Koç said Turkey has to change this foreign policy line immediately. The HDP criticism goes as far to accuse the government of giving assistance to ISIL “bands” for the same purpose and in their fight against the Kurdish groups in Syria.

It is true that Turkey has blacklisted ISIL in the early stages of its emergence in 2013. On the other hand, the Turkish government has been in contact with a variety of radical groups among the Syrian opposition groups, some of them with Jihadist policies. When asked for more commitment against ISIL by the U.S.-led coalition, President Tayyip Erdoğan has openly said that it would be possible if the West and the Arab world gave equal importance to the toppling of Bashar al-Assad, which is partly the source of speculations that the Turkish government was assisting radical groups in Syria.

Recently, particularly after the June 7 elections when the AK Parti lost its parliamentary majority to establish a government of its own, the stance of Ankara toughened police and military operations against ISIL suspects in Turkey, in which hundreds were arrested. Official sources think the ISIL attack could be a reaction to those steps, in coordination with the U.S.-led coalition, but there will be no return from “struggle against ISIL.”