Turkey: Police Name Suspect in US Embassy Suicide Bombing

by Dorian Jones

Updated at 2:37am on February 3, 2013

An extreme leftist group is Turkish security forces’ chief suspect in the February 1 suicide bombing of the US embassy in Ankara that killed two people, and left several others injured.

The bomber detonated his explosives while passing through an x-ray control room in the highly fortified embassy, killing himself and at least one Turkish security guard.

Speaking to reporters at the scene, Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Güler claimed that the bomber, who died in the blast, was 30-year-old Turkish citizen Ecevit Şanlı, whom he said was linked to a banned leftist group. Some Turkish news reports have claimed that Şanlı recently served eight months in jail for participating in an illegal protest.

Although Güler did not name the group to which Şanlı allegedly belonged, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asserted in a statement that "it is clear" that the outlawed Democratic People’s Liberation Party/Front, more commonly known by its acronym, DHKP/C, was responsible for the blast, Turkish media reported. In a statement posted on its website, the DHKP/C has taken responsibility for the attack, the news outlets said.

Video footage released to the state-run Anadolu Agency showed the suspect, dressed as a courier and carrying an envelope, headed toward the embassy entrance, Anadolu reported. Once inside, he allegedly used a handheld remote control to detonate six kilograms of TNT and also set off a grenade. Şanlı, an ex-convict who was wanted by Turkish authorities for a prison riot and "attempting to change the constitutional order," reportedly entered Turkey from Germany via Greece, and was carrying a "fake ID." He had previously served time for a 1997 attack against a soldiers' club and police department in Istanbul.

The DHKP/C has used suicide bombers before in its campaign against the Turkish state.

In 2012, a suicide bomber linked to the DHKP/C targeted an Istanbul police station, setting off an explosion that injured eight people. Using a tactic not dissimilar from the measure employed at the US embassy, the attacker detonated his explosives while passing through an x-ray control center.

The DHKP/C was born out of the turmoil of the 1970s, a decade characterized by political violence that claimed thousands of lives in Turkey. Formed in 1978 by the late militant activist Dursun Karataş, the group started its armed campaign against the government in earnest following the 1980 military coup. It targeted political and security force members linked to the coup and its worst abuses. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the group carried out numerous assassinations.

But in the past few years, the group has extended its campaign of violence to the Turkish security forces in general. Much of its political rhetoric is also against what it calls “western” imperialism; in particular, the US.

Turkey’s fringe far-left groups have been strongly critical of Washington’s foreign policy and Ankara’s close alliance with the US. The recent deployment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Patriot Missile defense system along the Turkish-Syrian border, ostensibly to protect Turkey from errant Syrian fire, was strongly opposed by some leftist groups.

The US armed services newspaper, The Stars and Stripes, cited a spokesperson for the missile operation as saying that the embassy blast would not affect a related troop deployment scheduled for February 2.

This week, high-level US officials visited the Ankara embassy to discuss with their Turkish counterparts, and members of the Syrian Opposition Council, ways to address the ongoing refugee crisis linked to the civil war in Syria.

But while the Turkish government is pointing the finger at the outlawed DHKP/C, other suspects initially appeared possibilities; chief among them, al-Qaeda. There are growing reports in Turkey that many radical Islamic militants, some claiming to be affiliated to al-Qaeda, have been arriving in Turkey to join the Syrian rebellion against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

The national daily Milliyet reported on February 1 that Turkish intelligence is holding a son-in-law of slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, identified only as “Suleyman M,” for allegedly entering Turkey on a fake passport. He is awaiting deportation to Iran.

The newspaper claimed that the US is anxious to talk to him, but that Turkish authorities claim that their regulations do not allow “Suleyman M” to be handed over for questioning.

Official sources could not be reached for confirmation.

Groups linked to al-Qaeda have been responsible for the most deadly attacks on foreign diplomatic targets in the past decade.

In 2008, al-Qaeda was blamed for a gun attack on the US consulate in Istanbul that killed three Turkish police. In 2003, the British consulate in Istanbul was hit as part of a bombing campaign blamed on a group linked to al-Qaeda. The series of attacks killed scores of people and wounded hundreds more.