On 13 July, French diplomatic missions in Turkey’s two main cities closed until further notice and cancelled planned events to mark France’s 14 July National Day due to security concerns.
The French consulate general in Istanbul had been due to hold a reception on Wednesday evening to mark national Day, while French mission in Ankara and the Aegean coastal city of Izmir had planned to hold events on Thursday. However on Wednesday, a statement issued by the French Embassy in Ankara disclosed that “for security reasons, July 14th receptions planned in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir are cancelled,” adding that it had informed the Turkish authorities of the decision and was in close contact with them. The statement also indicated that “the embassy of France in Ankara, as well as the consulate general in Istanbul will be closed from Wednesday July 13, 1 PM (1100 BST), until further notice.” Earlier in the day, the consulate general in Istanbul indicated that there was information suggesting a “serious threat against plans for the celebration of the July 14 national holiday in Turkey.”
Turkey is facing multiple threats, including from militants belonging to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, who have been blamed for a triple suicide bombing at Istanbul’s main airport several weeks ago, which killed 45 people and wounded hundreds. The attack was the deadliest in a series of bombings that have occurred this year in the NATO member state.
According to the United States State Department, there was a marked fall in the number of terror attacks that occurred around the world in 2015.
In a newly released report this month, the State Department attributed the 13% decline from 2014 to fewer attacks in Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, which are three of the five countries that have been the worst affected by terrorism. The other two are Afghanistan and India. Together, more than half of the 11,000 attacks that occurred last year happened within the borders of these five countries.
Data compiled by the University of Maryland indicates that more than 28,300 people died – a 14% decline – and about 35,300 others were wounded in 11,774 terrorist attacks that occurred worldwide last year. State Department Acting Co-ordinator for Counterterrorism Justin Siberell notes that attacks and deaths increased in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, the Philippines, Syria and Turkey. The State Department also reported that figures indicate that the terror threat “continued to evolve rapidly in 2015, becoming increasingly decentralized and diffused,” adding that extremists were exploiting frustration in countries “where avenues for free and peaceful expression of opinion were blocked.” The State Department highlighted that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group is the biggest single threat, adding that the group has attracted affiliates and supporters in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It noted that while IS was losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it was gaining strength in Libya and Egypt. The United Nations has also warned that IS is increasingly focusing on international civilian targets. The UN has reported that over the past six months, IS had carried out attacks in eleven countries. This does not include the militant group’s ongoing activity in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
The State Department report also disclosed that Iran was the biggest state sponsor of terrorism, stating that it supported conflicts in Syria and Iraq and that it was also implicated in violent Shia opposition raids in Bahrain. Bahrain has accused Iran of supplying weapons to Shia militants behind bomb attacks on security forces however Iran has denied this.
Terrorism is an historical global phenomena. Groups are characterized by certain ideologies, modus operandi, organizational type, structure and functions. Although those parameter are easily identifiable there is no a single or a set of proven strategies capable of defeating it. The struggle is always the result of a complex interlinked series of actors and events. Terrorist and counterterrorist operations share, to same extend, the capability of adapting to the current scenario. State actors’ adaptability and the choice of measures to implement are generally part of a legal system. The legal framework of a nation is the direct result of its society requirements.
Ankara, has been hit by a terrorist attack for the third time in five months, with Sunday’s suicide bombing adding a further 37 to the city’s gruesome running toll of more than 200 dead. Turkey is the target of multiple terrorist organizations simultaneously, including Islamic State and the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK. In response, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is demanding wider counter-terrorist powers to deal with the threat. The treat is credible and imminent however the EU is requesting a different approach. The European Parliament began debates on a proposal by the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, to grant Turkey the visa waiver. Turkey and the European Union sealed a contentious deal in March, under which the 28-nation bloc will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from the country and in return will reward Ankara with money, visa exemption and progress in its EU membership negotiations. Turkey has largely complied with the deal allowing providing asylum for millions of refugees and saving the EU from an unprecedented crisis that no member state has prepared or planned for.
The Turkish efforts and compliances are still not enough in order to win visa-free travel. Turkey must still meet five of 72 criteria the EU imposes on all states exempt from visas, one of which is narrowing its legal definition of terrorism. PM Ahmet Davutoglu, who negotiated the deal for Ankara and has largely delivered Turkish compliance with its conditions so far, announced he was stepping down, throwing the agreement into uncertainty. Turkey has used broad anti-terror laws to silence dissent, including detaining journalists and academics critical of the government. But Ankara insists the laws are essential as it battles Kurdish militants at home and the threat from Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Turkey argues that, at the current stage, it is impossible to make any revision to the legislation and practices on terrorism while the country continues its intense fight against various terrorist organizations.
The main governmental bodies involved in combating terrorism are the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the General Staff of the armed forces and the intelligence services. In addition to these existing institutional structures the Under Secretariat of Public Order and Security has been established by Law No. 5952. Terrorism is a leading threat against international peace, security and stability. Turkey is committed to combating terrorism in all its forms, without distinction and takes a firm stance against associating terrorism with any religion, nationality, civilization or ethnic group. The main legal provisions concerning terrorism are set out in the Counter-Terrorism Law (CTL), No. 3713 of 12 April 1991 and the Turkish Criminal Code, No. 5237 which entered into force on 1 June 2005. Since the enactment of the Counter-Terrorism Law, various amendments have been recently made to increase its effectiveness in counter-terrorism and to expand rights and freedoms in line with European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
A conflict which has lasted over five years; dismounted the infrastructures of a country set the entire surviving population to seek asylum in neighbors’ states: the Syrian civil-war. The perfect stage to allow terrorists and extremists to enforce their plans and gain territories. Syria is not the only battlefield of this unbalanced amorphous and revised war on terror. North Iraq, Southeastern Turkey and on a broader spectrum the whole of Europe remains a potential target. A conflict where superpowers as the US and Russia played a major role leading to a ceasefire and alleged peace talks in Ginevra; a conflict where actors, structures and outcomes are yet to be fully unveiled.
This conflict is another historical landmark for many foreign policies; it reshaped the approach to terrorism and justice; showed the world a climate of desperation and fear; cruelty and loss of lives have filled the daily newspapers. Europe has worked on resolving the collateral effect of migrations and has faced attacks within its capitals; other players have tried to eradicate ISIS. No winners; only an apparent and fragile ceasefire.
From any “problem solving” point of view the first step of the analysis is to acknowledge the problem; identify the causes beginning by minimizing the effects. Who is ISIS?
Before describing the organization we should consider the so widely used term “Terrorism”. Historically the term refers to the unlawful use of violence towards civilian’s targets in a desperate attempt to enforce political goals. The rise of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham began in 2004 as al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). It was initially an ally of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda and both were radical anti-Western militant groups devoted to establishing an independent Islamic state in the region. AQI was weakened in Iraq in 2007 as a result of what is known as the Sunni Awakening, when a large alliance of Iraqi Sunni tribes, supported by the US, fought against the jihadist group. AQI saw an opportunity to regain its power and expand its ranks in the Syrian conflict that started in 2011, moving into Syria from Iraq. By 2013, al-Baghdadi had spread his group’s influence back into Iraq and changed the group’s name to ISIS. It disowned the group in early 2014 proving to be more brutal and more effective at controlling seized territories.
While ISIL has not been able to seize ground in the past several months, that hasn’t precluded them from conducting terrorist attacks, and it hasn’t precluded them from conducting operations that are more akin to guerrilla operations than the conventional operations that we saw when they were seizing territory. The organization understood the value of pushing out content, specifically videos of atrocities, into the world. Therefore, they could recruit very brutal young men to come and join their struggle. As the organization evolved, it made media very central to its ideology and strategy. ISIS had harnessed the power of the “information arena” to propagate its ideology, recruit, move money and coordinate activities. The question arise naturally: “What can be done?”
A top Pentagon official reported that the US is hitting ISIS with “cyber bombs” as part of its new arsenal of tactics being deployed against the terrorist group. The cyber effort is focused primarily on ISIS terrorists in Syria and that the goal is to overload their network so that they cannot function. An attack of this magnitude can interrupt the group’s ability to command and control forces. Similar principle was applied over the power and water disruptions in the middle of a two-week truce between government forces and certain militant groups. Disruption of critical infrastructure was used in order to gain an advantage over the group. Moreover the Islamic State is clearly frightened by the outflow of refugees. A lot of media have been created excoriating those who flee from these territories. By taking advantage of those refugees a powerful tool could be created in order to tell their stories to the world.
The humanitarian issues, the fallout, the civil war, the core issues have not been addressed yet. So far the military intervention and the coalition of multiple air strikes, carried out by Russia and US, have diminished the capabilities of the group; however there is so much more to do and the future remains uncertain. It is highly likely that ISIS will not cease to exist in the near-medium term; their strategy, tactics and objectives are likely to remain unaffected. The struggle in the region and the level of threat to Europe are still primary concerns and subjects of ongoing discussions.
On April 8, the recent EU-Turkey agreement on migration achieved a modest milestone. Two ferries carried over 120 migrants from the Greek island of Lesbos to the Turkish mainland. Earlier this week, on April 4, two ferries carried 202 migrants from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios to Turkey. That same day, 32 Syrian migrants travelled from Turkey to Germany. Of the deportations conducted thus far, a large portion have been migrants of Pakistani, Afghan or North African origin. The migrants travelling officially from Turkey to Europe have mainly been Syrian nationals. If this practice continues, it will address the long-standing complaint by many European politicians that many of the arriving migrants were not legitimate refugees from conflict zones.
Despite these successes, Europe’s migration-related challenges are far from over. There have been reports that nearly one third of the 52,000 migrants in Greece have not moved to the newly designated processing facilities. Large numbers of migrants remain living in unofficial, makeshift camps near the port of Piraeus and at the northern border with Macedonia. The Greek Government has issued an ultimatum requiring the migrants living near Pireaus to disperse within two weeks or be removed by force. It remains unclear how exactly such dispersals would take place without violent protests. As recently as April 1, 8 people were injured during a clash at one of the migrant camps near Pireaus.
For the EU-Turkey agreement to ultimately be successful, it will require careful coordination and sustained support for the Greek Government. Greek officials have criticized that support for being slow to arrive. Earlier this week, there were numerous complaints that less than half of the 2300 Frontex personnel (the EU’s border agency) had been deployed as promised.
There have also been continued divisions regarding proposed reforms to the EU’s asylum system. The European Commission had argued that the Dublin placed incredible stress on Italy and Greece by requiring migrants to claim asylum in the first EU country they reach. One proposal would be the creation of a permanent fairness mechanism to redistribute asylum seekers throughout the European Union away from the frontline countries bordering the Mediterranean. Other potential reform policies include legal penalties against irregular movement by non-EU nationals or a central distribution system that allocate asylum claimants though a comprehensive quota scheme. However, the Czech Republic and United Kingdom have both officially announced their opposition to any major reform of the current policy. As anti-migrant sentiment continues to grow across Europe, any of the proposed reforms could prove highly controversial and difficult to implement. Despite the initial successes of the EU-Turkey deal, a truly long term solution to the migrant crisis remains elusive.