Could the US Embassy Bombing in Turkey Have Been Prevented? Turkish Authorities Knew of the Attack In Advance
Last Friday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, in an email to reporters, wrote: “We can confirm a terrorist blast at a check point on the perimeter of our embassy compound in Ankara, Turkey, at 1:13 p.m. local time. We are working closely with the Turkish national police to make a full assessment of the damage and the casualties, and to begin an investigation.”
The suicide bomber who carried out the attack was Ecevit Sanli, a member of the leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C), a Turkish group that has accused the U.S. of using Turkey as its “slave.” Sanli blew himself up in a perimeter gatehouse as he tried to enter the embassy, also killing a Turkish security guard.
The DHKP-C is venomously anti-American and is listed as a terrorist organization by both the United States and Turkey. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is described as a U.S. “puppet” by the DHKP-C in a statement on the Internet: “Murderer America! You will not run away from people’s rage.” The statement was posted on “The People’s Cry” website which included a picture of Sanli wearing a black beret and military-style gear, with an explosives belt around his waist.
Sanli was born in 1973 in the Black Sea port city of Ordu and was jailed in 1997 for attacks on a police station and a military staff college in Istanbul, but received a deferred sentence after he became ill while engaged in a hunger strike. In 2002, he was condemned to life in prison but managed to flee Turkey a year later. Later, he re-entered Turkey using fraudulent documents, according to Interior Minister Muammer Guler.
Two others were taken into custody in Istanbul and Ankara in connection with the attack, state broadcaster TRT reports. The White House has condemned the bombing as an “act of terror”, while the U.N. Security Council described it as a heinous act.
The violent attack was launched due to the terrorist organization’s wanting the U.S. to remove the Patriot missiles, which are now part of a NATO defense system, from Turkey. The missiles are being deployed alongside systems from Germany and the Netherlands as a security measure against spillover of the war in neighboring Syria. The DHKP-C also resents the allied relationship between the U.S. and Turkey and seeks to sever that bond. Turkey has been one of the leading advocates of foreign intervention to end the civil war in Syria and is also one of President Bashar al-Assad’s sharpest critics, a position which the DHKP-C views as submission to an imperialist agenda.
DHKP-C is one of some sixty terrorist organizations in Istanbul. A few of them, including DHKP-C, are anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Turkish government. The DHKP–C is suspected in several bomb attacks against Turkish authorities.
Originally formed in 1978, the organization went by the names Devrimci Sol, or Dev Sol, and was a splinter faction of the Turkish People’s Liberation Party/Front. The group changed its name in 1994 after factional infighting. Its philosophy is based on Marxist ideology and its activities are financed primarily via armed robbery and extortion.
According to the State Department, in 1992 DHKP-C assassinated two US military contractors in addition to wounding a US Air Force officer. This was done in protest of the Gulf War. In 1992 rockets were launched at the US Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish authorities thwarted a DHKP/C attempt in June 1999 to fire a light antitank weapon at the US Consulate in Istanbul.
In 2004, in a dragnet spanning five countries, authorities arrested more than 50 people suspected of belonging to or aiding DHKP-C which was suspected of a string of deadly bombing and shooting attacks against Americans and Turks. In addition to that, fourteen Americans were murdered by the terrorist organization between 1979 and 1991.
DHKP-C uses PASS (Politicized Military War Strategy) as its modus operandi, with the ultimate goal being the overthrow of the Turkish government. The U.S. is sometimes targeted because of the allied relationship between Turkey and the U.S. and because DHKP-C is opposed to capitalism and the West, in general. They are also anti-Israel. According to the Turkish National Police:
“DHKP/C has used several tactics in the form of armed attacks, such as assassinations, suicide bombings and bomb traps which are still maintained among the terrorist organization’s attempts. DHKP/C also organizes massive violent demonstrations, particularly on special days with political and ideological sense.”
Turkish authorities knew that the DHPK-C was planning an attack. They said that they did not possess enough information to prevent it from happening but offered no further expanation. President Abdullah Gul made the following statement: ”Our security and intelligence organizations knew the terror organization was seeking to carry out an attack; they were on alert and had warned everyone. But unfortunately it could not be prevented, and they carried out this attack against the US embassy.”
But, US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone said the embassy did not receive a specific threat warning in advance from the Turkish government. Instead, he said, the US was aware of a general warning with regard to the terrorist organization. The State Department’s awareness of the threat was not conveyed on the State Department website; in October, the State Department issued a travel warning for the southern provinces of Turkey, due to the war in Syria, but Ankara, where the recent attack took place, was not listed.
At a press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said:
“Ankara is one of the posts that is due for a completely new embassy compound in the future, and it is one of the posts that will go on the list if the department gets the money that we’re looking for from the Congress for security.
This is one of the compounds where we have been making steady security upgrades over the last decade, and, in fact, the attack was at one of the exterior compound-access sites, so it was far from the main building. And it was a result of the way that it was hardened that we only lost the one local security guard.”
Ricciardone said that FBI teams were on the ground in Ankara within 48 hours of the incident and that forensic experts from both the FBI and Turkish police are coordinating efforts to develop a solid case against the DHKP-C.
In response to the question as to whether Turkish authorities failed to prevent the attack, he said: “We are not in a blame game here. It is always possible to improve intelligence and law enforcement.” He indicated that they will draw lessons from the incident. Ricciardone noted that both the US and Turkey have suffered a lot from terrorism.
According to embassy officials, the DHKP-C has stated that it intends to commit further attacks against the United States, NATO and Turkey. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the improvements Nuland spoke of will be in place in time for the next potential attack. It is also unclear as to why, with prior knowledge, the attack could not be thwarted. How much information the State Department had at its disposal, prior to the bombing, also remains a mystery, for now.