Ankara Bombing Further Fractures Turkey
On October 10, twin blasts exploded during a pro-peace protest, held by the leftist People’s Democratic Party (HDP) near the train station in Ankara, Turkey. The blasts, carried out by suspected ISIS bombers likely wearing suicide vests containing ball bearings to maximize casualties, left ninety-five dead and nearly two hundred and fifty wounded. The attack comes during a rise in internal conflict in the country, both in the form of a re-ignited Kurdish insurgency and as the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) attempts to secure a majority in November’s snap general election to consolidate power around President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The goal of the attack was clearly to further drive a wedge between actors in the country and instigate further instability.
On October 19, Turkish government officials identified one of the bombers as Yunus Emre Alagoz, from the Adiyaman province. Alagoz, ethnically Kurdish but known for harboring pro-ISIS sympathies, is the brother of Seyh Abdurrahman Alagoz, the suicide bomber responsible for the attack on Kurdish demonstrators in the town of Suruç, near the border with Syria, on July 20, killing 33. The Turkish government also arrested four additional suspects, allegedly including one individual who directed the attackers in Ankara, possibly indicating a the attacks were the work of an ISIS-linked cell in the country.
While no group claimed responsibility for the bombing, both the Suruç attack and the Ankara attack fit the modus operandi of ISIS. The level of sophistication of the two bombings, both in the design of the suicide vests to cause mass casualties and the choice of targets, suggests a level of planning and implementation likely directed by an ISIS cell within Turkey. The attackers did not just target Kurds, but peaceful protests, likely a move to further insecurity among those pushing a more moderate line in regards to the Turkish government, intentionally inflaming conspiracy theories and furthering mistrust. In Iraq, ISIS’ predecessor organization, al-Qaeda in Iraq, carried out bombings that it did not claim credit for, in order to increase tensions between Iraq’s Shiite majority and Sunni minority, thus inflaming a sectarian civil war. It should be noted that the Suruç attack led to the breakdown in the two year old ceasefire between the Turkish Government and the insurgent Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the country has since seen a surge in attacks by the Turkish government and the PKK against one another.
With the group responsible withholding claiming a claim of responsibility, the wake of the Ankara bombing has led to an increase in suspicions between Turks and Kurds throughout the country over who conducted the attack. Many Turks, suspicious of the Kurds, blamed the HDP for the attack, claiming it was a “false flag” to garner support. The Turkish government also refused to rule out an attack by Kurdish militants. Head of the HDP, Selahattan Demirtaş, laid the blame on the ruling AK Party and President Erdogan, saying the resulting discord and the deaths of HDP supporters bolsters the AKP’s image as a guarantor of security. Protesters throughout the country rallied against the government’s failure to provide security and the intentional suspension of social media by the government in the wake of the attack.
The attack in Ankara exacerbated tensions in a country already on the edge. Despite the PKK unilaterally declaring a ceasefire in the wake of the bombing in order to allow the November elections to proceed, the Turkish government has continued its campaign against them. It is still unclear what effect, if any, the Ankara bombing will have on the election. However, its orchestrators have succeeded in further poisoning the political atmosphere in Turkey, a prelude to future instability..