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2012 Country Reports on Terrorism: Turkey

The U.S. Department of State submitted the “Country Reports on Terrorism 2012” to the Congress on May 30, 2013. According to the State Department press release, the most noteworthy counterterrorism developments of 2012 were: a marked resurgence of Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism; weakening of al-Qa’ida (AQ) core in Pakistan; growing independence of AQ affiliates due to leadership losses; increasingly decentralized and geographically dispersed terrorist threat; heavy concentration of terrorist threat in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the report, Turkey experienced a spike in terrorist attacks, rising from 40 in 2010 to 91 in 2011. Together, Russia and Turkey suffered almost 70 percent of all 2011 terrorism related deaths in Europe and Eurasia. Below are the sections on Turkey, the PKK, and the DHKP/C: 

TURKEY

Overview: Domestic and transnational terrorist groups have targeted Turkish nationals and foreigners in Turkey, including, on occasion, U.S. government personnel, for over 40 years. Most prominent among terrorist groups in Turkey is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Composed primarily of ethnic Kurds with a nationalist agenda, the PKK operates from areas in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq and targets mainly Turkish security forces. Other prominent terrorist groups in Turkey include the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front 86 (DHKP-C), a militant Marxist-Leninist group with anti-U.S. and anti-NATO views that seeks the violent overthrow of the Turkish state, and Turkish Hizballah (unrelated to the group similarly named Hizballah operating in Lebanon). Public sources also highlight detentions of Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) members as well as supporters for al-Qa’ida (AQ) and other groups. The Turkish Workers’ and Peasants’ Liberation Army, though largely inactive, was still considered a potential threat by the Turkish government.

2011 Terrorist Incidents: The PKK continued to demonstrate its nation-wide reach. Typical tactics, techniques, and procedures included ambushes on military patrols in the countryside, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along known military or police routes, and bombings of both security and civilian targets in urban areas. Six attacks garnered particular attention and condemnation:

  • A May attack on the prime minister’s convoy in Kastamonu, near the Black Sea, using small arms and a roadside IED (the prime minister was not in the convoy at the time; one police officer was killed).
  • A July attack on Gendarmerie Personnel in Silvan using small arms and grenades that killed 13 Turkish security forces.
  • An August attack in Hakkari province’s Cukurca district left at least nine Turkish security personnel dead.
  • A September attack on a crowded Ankara street using a small vehicle-based IED killed three civilians and wounded 34. The PKK denied playing a role in the attack, though responsibility for the bombing was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), an organization suspected of having links to the PKK.
  • A September attack in Batman killed a woman and her four-year old daughter when PKK attackers opened fire from a vehicle.
  • In an October attack, the deadliest since 1993, the PKK killed 26 security forces in Hakkari province.

In July, Turkish national police arrested 15 alleged members of a Turkey-based, AQ-inspired terrorist cell. The group was reportedly preparing a large vehicle-borne IED-type attack against one of a small group of targets that included the U.S. embassy. Weapons, plans, photos of possible targets, and over 600 kilograms of explosives were seized during the arrests. As of December, one person had been released and 14 held for trial.

Turkey continued to participate in the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program.

Legislation and Law Enforcement: Counterterrorism law enforcement efforts in Turkey remained focused on the domestic threat posed by several terrorist groups, including the PKK. Turkey’s methodology and legislation are geared towards confronting this internal threat. Efforts to combat international terrorism are hampered by legislation that defines terrorism narrowly as a crime targeting the Turkish state or Turkish citizens. This definition of terrorism posed concerns for operational and legal cooperation. A draft law before Parliament on the Prevention of Terrorist Financing was initially intended to address the definitional issue; however, according to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the current draft is insufficient to bring this and other areas of terrorist finance legislation up to international standards.

Separately, critics charged that Turkish authorities applied its counterterrorism laws overly broadly to stifle political discourse, arresting hundreds of political activists, journalists, military officials, and others over the year for crimes under Turkey’s terrorism laws. Current regulations governing pre-trial detentions allow terrorism and other suspects to be held for up to five years while awaiting trial. Political leaders had begun speaking openly of reforming the current counterterrorism law, but no specific legislation had been drafted by the end of 2011.

Countering Terrorist Finance: Turkey is a member of the FATF, and in 2007, the FATF identified Turkey as a jurisdiction with significant anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing (AML/CTF) vulnerabilities, chief among them Turkey’s incomplete criminalization of terrorist financing and weak national asset-freezing mechanisms. In response, in 2010 Turkey drafted but ultimately did not pass a law on the “Prevention of Terrorist Financing,” intended to address all CTF deficiencies identified by the FATF. In its October 2011 review of Turkey’s status, FATF found no improvement, reiterated its concerns that Turkey still has significant AML/CTF vulnerabilities, and included Turkey in its Public Statement. The same draft CTF law was resubmitted to parliament in October. The draft bill moved to the International Affairs Committee and two other parliamentary committees in November, where opposition parties have raised privacy and other legal concerns. The bill was under review in parliamentary committees at year’s end.

The regulation of banks is carried out by the Banking Regulatory and Supervision Agency and regulation of financial exchange houses, insurance companies, and jewelers is carried out by the Under Secretariat of Treasury. Stock exchanges are regulated by the Capital Markets Board. There is little coordination or sharing of best practices among the agencies with specific regard to AML/CTF competencies. Money/value transfer systems are illegal and as such there is no regulatory agency that covers this area.

The nonprofit sector is not audited on a regular basis for counterterrorist finance vulnerabilities and does not receive adequate AML/CTF outreach or guidance from the Turkish government. The General Director of Foundations issues licenses for charitable foundations and oversees them, but there are a limited number of auditors to cover the more than 70,000 institutions.

Turkish officials circulated U.S.-designated names to the security services for their awareness, though only UN-listed names were subject to asset-freezes.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, we refer you to the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.

Regional and International Cooperation: Turkey is a founding member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and together with the United States, co-chaired the Forum’s inaugural session in September 2011 and worked assiduously to build international support for it. As co-chair, Turkey provided extensive secretariat support, including hosting a pre-GCTF launch conference in Istanbul in April.

Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism: The Government of Turkey has two significant programs in place to counter radicalization and violent extremism. The first, administered by the national police, is a broad-based outreach program to affected communities, similar to anti-gang activities in the United States. Police worked to reach vulnerable populations before terrorists did, to alter the prevailing group dynamics, and prevent recruitment. Police utilized social science research to undertake social projects, activities with parents and in service training for officers and teachers. Programs prepared trainers, psychologists, coaches, and religious leaders to intervene to undermine radical messages and prevent recruitment.

The second program, administered by the Religious Affairs Office (Diyanet) of the Government of Turkey, promoted a mainstream interpretation of Islam and worked to undercut the message of violent religious extremists. In Turkey, all Sunni imams are employees of the Diyanet. In support of its message of traditional religious values, more than 66,000 Diyanet imams throughout Turkey conducted individualized outreach to their congregations. Diyanet similarly worked with religious associations among the Turkish diaspora, assisting them to establish umbrella organizations and providing them access to mainstream Hanafi instruction. Diyanet supported in-service training for religious leaders and lay-workers through a network of 19 centers throughout Turkey.

In 2011, the Government of Turkey reiterated its intent to follow up on its 2009 “democratic initiative” (also known as the “national unity project” or the “Kurdish opening”). The initiative was designed to address the social and economic inequalities in Turkish society that fuel Kurdish dissent. Concrete steps within the scope of the initiative were clearly devised to reduce the PKK’s support, by, for example, liberalizing laws governing the use of the Kurdish language in broadcasting, education, and state buildings; reducing the number of instances where counterterrorism laws are applied to non-violent crimes; and providing legal incentives to bring members of the PKK who have not engaged in violence back into civil society. To further these objectives, Turkish officials have announced plans to shift primary responsibility for counterterrorism efforts from the Turkish military to civilian security forces (National Police and Jandarma).

KURDISTAN WORKERS’ PARTY

aka the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress; the Freedom and Democracy Congress of Kurdistan; KADEK; Partiya Karkeran Kurdistan; the People’s Defense Force; Halu Mesru Savunma Kuvveti; Kurdistan People’s Congress; People’s Congress of Kurdistan; KONGRAGEL

Description: Founded by Abdullah Ocalan in 1978 as a Marxist-Leninist separatist organization, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or Kongra-Gel (KGK) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1997. The group, composed primarily of Turkish Kurds, launched a campaign of violence in 1984. The PKK’s original goal was to establish an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey, but in recent years it has spoken more often about autonomy within a Turkish state that guarantees Kurdish cultural and linguistic rights. In the early 1990s, the PKK moved beyond rural-based insurgent activities to include urban terrorism.

In the 1990s, southeastern Anatolia was the scene of significant violence; some estimates place casualties at approximately 30,000 persons. Following his capture in 1999, Ocalan announced a “peace initiative,” ordering members to refrain from violence and requesting dialogue with Ankara on Kurdish issues. Ocalan’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment; he remains the symbolic leader of the group. The group foreswore violence until June 2004, when the group’s hard-line militant wing took control and renounced the selfimposed cease-fire of the previous five years. Striking over the border from bases within Iraq, the PKK has engaged in terrorist attacks in eastern and western Turkey.

Activities: Primary targets have been Turkish government security forces, local Turkish officials, and villagers who oppose the organization in Turkey. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, PKK violence killed or injured hundreds of Turks.

The PKK remained active in 2011, with approximately 61 credited attacks. At least 88 people were killed in the attacks and 216 wounded. Although the majority of the attacks took place in Turkey, suspected PKK members have carried out multiple attacks on the offices of a Turkish newspaper in Paris, France.

Strength: Approximately 4,000 to 5,000; 3,000 to 3,500 are located in northern Iraq.

Location/Area of Operation: The PKK operate primarily in Turkey, Iraq, and Europe.

External Aid: In the past, the PKK received safe haven and modest aid from Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Since 1999, Iran has also cooperated in a limited fashion with Turkey against the PKK. The PKK receives substantial financial support from the large Kurdish diaspora in Europe and from criminal activity there.

REVOLUTIONARY PEOPLE’S LIBERATION PARTY/FRONT

aka DHKP/C; Dev Sol; Dev Sol Armed Revolutionary Units; Dev Sol Silahli Devrimci Birlikleri; Dev Sol SDB; Devrimci Halk Kurtulus Partisi-Cephesi; Devrimci Sol; Revolutionary Left

Description: Designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1997, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) was originally formed in 1978 as Devrimci Sol, or Dev Sol, a splinter faction of Dev Genc (Revolutionary Youth). It was renamed in 1994 after factional infighting. “Party” refers to the group’s political activities, while “Front” is a reference to the group’s militant operations. The group espouses a Marxist-Leninist ideology and vehemently opposes the United States, NATO, and Turkish establishments. Its goals are the establishment of a socialist state and the abolition of harsh high-security “F-type” prisons, in Turkey. DHKP/C finances its activities chiefly through donations and extortion.

Activities: Since the late 1980s, the group has primarily targeted current and retired Turkish security and military officials. It began a new campaign against foreign interests in 1990, which included attacks against U.S. military and diplomatic personnel and facilities. Dev Sol assassinated two U.S. military contractors, wounded an Air Force officer, and bombed more than 20 U.S. and NATO military, commercial, and cultural facilities. DHKP/C added suicide bombings to its repertoire in 2001, with successful attacks against Turkish police in January and September. Since the end of 2001, DHKP/C has typically used improvised explosive devices against official Turkish targets and U.S. targets of opportunity.

Operations and arrests against the group have weakened its capabilities. In late June 2004, the group was suspected of a bus bombing at Istanbul University, which killed four civilians and wounded 21. In July 2005, in Ankara, police intercepted and killed a DHKP/C suicide bomber who attempted to attack the Ministry of Justice. In June 2006, the group killed a police officer in Istanbul; four members of the group were arrested the next month for the attack.

The DHKP/C was dealt a major ideological blow when Dursun Karatas, leader of the group, died in August 2008 in the Netherlands. After the loss of their leader, the DHKP/C reorganized in 2009 and was reportedly competing with the Kurdistan Workers Party for influence in both Turkey and with the Turkish diaspora in Europe. In 2011, DHKP/C continued to plan terrorist attacks, and suspected members were arrested in Greece in July. In October, a suspected DHKP/C member blew himself up with a grenade in Thessaloniki, Greece. A significant cache of weapons was found in the suspect’s apartment, shared with other suspected DHKP/C members.

Strength: Probably several dozen members inside Turkey, with a limited support network throughout Europe.

Location/Area of Operation: Turkey, primarily in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Adana.

External Aid: DHKP/C raises funds in Europe. The group also raises funds through extortion.