Country Report on Terrorism 2009 - Chapter 2 - Turkey

Domestic and transnational terrorist groups have targeted Turkish nationals and foreigners in Turkey, including, on occasion, U.S. government personnel, for more than 40 years. Terrorist groups that have operated in Turkey have included Kurdish groups, al-Qa’ida (AQ), Marxist-Leninist, and pro-Chechen groups. The past year may have been a watershed year for Turkey in countering the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkish terrorism law defines terrorism as attacks against Turkish citizens and the Turkish state. This definition may hamper Turkey’s ability to interdict, arrest, and prosecute those who plan and facilitate terrorist acts to be committed outside of Turkey, or acts to be committed against non-Turks within Turkey. Nonetheless, Turkish cooperation with the United States against terrorism is strong.

Most prominent among terrorist groups in Turkey is the PKK. Composed primarily of Kurds with a nationalist agenda, the PKK operated from bases in northern Iraq and directed its forces to target mainly Turkish security forces. In 2006, 2007, and 2008, PKK violence claimed hundreds of Turkish lives. PKK activity was lower in 2009, but was still a constant throughout the year.

In 2009, the Turkish government and the Turkish General Staff agreed that military action against the PKK would not be sufficient to eliminate it as a terrorist threat. The government began an initiative, now known as the National Unity Project, to address the social and economic inequalities in Turkish society that purportedly fuel Kurdish dissent and PKK recruitment. Concrete steps within the scope of the Project were clearly devised to drain the PKK’s support, by, for example, liberalizing laws governing the use of the Kurdish language in broadcasting, education, and state buildings; reducing the application of counterterrorism laws to non-violent crimes; and providing legal incentives to bring members of the PKK who have not engaged in violence back into civil society.

A court case against an alleged terrorist organization known as Ergenekon continued throughout the year. Investigations into Ergenekon, a group allegedly composed of former military officials, bureaucrats, politicians, journalists, and underworld figures, began in 2007, and led to arrests beginning in the summer of 2008. In 2009, the focus of the case gradually shifted away from terrorism aspects, such as investigating and prosecuting suspects for illegally stockpiling arms and attempting assassinations of prominent minority leaders, to alleged coup-plotting by senior military staff. The responsible court may issue an interim decision on whether Ergenekon and its alleged members should be tried under counterterrorism laws or whether Ergenekon would be better classified as an organized crime ring and tried under laws against organized crime.

Terrorists associated with al-Qa’ida, the Islamic Jihad Union, and other Sunni extremist groups continued to have a logistical and operational presence in Turkey and used Turkey as a transit country. Newspapers reported several raids on alleged AQ cells.

Other prominent terrorist groups in Turkey included the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C), a militant Marxist-Leninist group with anti-U.S. and anti-NATO views that seeks the violent overthrow of the Turkish state. Newspapers reported several operations against the group throughout the year. A DHKP-C suicide bomber failed in her April 29 attempt to assassinate former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk. The Marxist-Leninist Communist Party took responsibility for bomb attacks against a police station in Gaziantep in April. On April 27, police raided a Revolutionary Headquarters cell in Istanbul, in an operation that resulted in the deaths of one suspected terrorist and one policeman. The Turkish Workers’ and Peasants’ Liberation Army, though largely inactive, is still considered a potential threat by the Turkish government.

Turkey has consistently supported Coalition efforts in Afghanistan. Turkey has more than 1,700 troops in Afghanistan, including four military training teams in Kabul and a civilian Provincial Reconstruction Team in Wardak Province. In November, Turkey re-assumed command of Regional Command Capital (the new name given to the former Kabul Multinational Brigade) for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Turkey has undertaken training of Afghan military and police officials, politicians, and bureaucrats in Turkey. It has pledged a total of US$ 200 million to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Turkey has provided significant logistical support to Coalition operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, authorizing the use of Incirlik Air Base as an air-refueling hub for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and as a cargo hub to transport non-lethal cargo to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Almost 60 percent of air cargo for U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2005 and 2009 transited the Incirlik cargo hub. Establishment of this hub allows six C-17 aircraft to transport the amount of goods it took nine to ten aircraft to move from Germany, and saves the United States almost US$ 160 million per year. More than 16 percent of the fuel for Coalition and U.S. Forces transited from Turkey into Iraq via the Habur Gate border crossing in 2009. Turkey was active in reconstruction efforts in Iraq, including providing electricity. Turkey contributed headquarters personnel to the NATO Training Mission in Iraq (NTM-I) and completed military leadership training in Turkey for 89 Iraqi officers as a further contribution to the NATO NTM-I.

Pursuant to its obligations under UNSCR 1267 and subsequent resolutions, Turkish officials continued to circulate UN-designated names of terrorists to all law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and to financial institutions. Turkish officials also circulated U.S.-designated names, although only UN-listed names were subjected to asset freezes enforced through a Council of Ministers decree. This legal mechanism for enforcing sanctions under UNSCR 1267 was challenged in Turkish courts by UN-designated terrorist financier Yasin al-Kadi, whose assets had been frozen by the state. Following a series of legal actions, the decree freezing his assets has been successfully challenged but was still in effect pending appeal.