On February 1, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in front of the U.S. embassy in Ankara, the capital of Turkey. The detonation killed the bomber and a Turkish guard in an attack that government sources are blaming on local Leftist factions.
Both Turkey and the U.S. condemned the attack. U.S. State Department officials warned U.S. citizens to stay clear of all U.S. diplomatic installations in Turkey.
Besides the two fatalities, a woman was seriously injured in the bombing, while two Turkish guards sustained less serious injuries in the blast that occured at approximately 1:15 pm local time.
Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler told reporters that there has been no immediate claim of responsibility, but Guler said "preliminary information" gives indications that domestic left-wing militants are responsible. According to the AP wire service, the bomber is most likely a suspected member of the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C.
The DHKP-C is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. but had been relatively quiet in recent years.
The blast occurred inside at a security checkpoint at the side entrance to the U.S. embassy, which is used by staff. The dead guard had been standing outside the checkpoint, while the two injured two guards were standing in a more protected area,
Police and ambulances swarmed the cordoned area as forensic investigators combed the site. TV footage showed the embassy door blown off, while the blast also shattered the windows of nearby businesses, littering debris on the ground and across the road. The inside of the embassy did not appear to be damaged.
Television footage also showed someone who appeared to be a member of embassy security wearing a helmet and body armor surveying the area from the roof of an embassy building. The U.S. Marines provide security to the embassy, as they do at other U.S. diplomatic installations in foreign countries.
The U.S. embassy is heavily protected and located near several other embassies, including that of Germany and France. Embassy staff took shelter in "safe room" inside the compound soon after the explosion. In the aftermath, the U.S. embassy issued a statement thanking Turkey for "its solidarity and outrage over the incident."
U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone declared that the U.S. and Turkey "will continue to fight terrorism together," adding "From today's event, it is clear that we both suffer from this terrible, terrible problem of today's world. We are determined after events like this even more to cooperate together until we defeat this problem together." The ambassador opined that the embassy is now secure. Ambassador Riccardone visited the hospitalized Didem Tuncay, the 38-year-old woman injured in blast. She is a respected Turkish journalist. The ambassador also referred to the deceased Turkish guard as a "hero".
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the attack was aimed to disturb Turkey's "peace and prosperity" and demonstrated a need for international cooperation against terrorism. "We will stand firm and we will overcome this together," he said.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in Washington that U.S. officials are "working closely with the Turkish national police to make a full assessment of the damage and the casualties, and to begin an investigation."
"The Department of State advises U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Turkey to be alert to the potential for violence, to avoid those areas where disturbances have occurred, and to avoid demonstrations and large gatherings," said a statement issued by the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul. U.S. diplomatic facilities in Turkey have been targeted previously by terrorists. In 2008, an attack blamed on al-Qaida-affiliated militants outside the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul left three assailants and three policemen dead. In past years, the DHKP-C terrorist group has led hunger strikes against Turkish prison conditions that led to the deaths of dozens of inmates.
In September 2012, police said a leftist militant threw a hand grenade and then blew himself up in Istanbul, killing a police officer and injuring seven others. Police identified the bomber as a member of the DHKP-C, which has claimed responsibility for assassinations and bombings since the 1970s. In 2008, Turkish police said they had foiled a bomb plot by DHKP-C against some U.S. companies in Turkey. Some terrorist violence has been linked to domestic Islamic terrorist who are connected to the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
Turkey is adjacent to Syria, where a fratricidal war has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Turkey has been a consistent critic of President Bashar al-Assad's government, and has given refuge to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. For the U.S., Turkey is a linchpin in its policy towards the region. The first of six Patriot missile batteries from the U.S. was recently made operational and is now under NATO control. Other missile batteries are expected within one week.
“An attack on the US Embassy in Ankara suggests that the capability of terrorist organisation the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) or a PKK splinter group to attack state and diplomatic assets has increased,” according to a special report released by Exclusive Analysis, recently acquired by IHS.
Analyst Alexander Melikishvili of UK-based Exclusive Analysis wrote in the report, "Although few details are known about the circumstances surrounding the incident, one possible, and in our initial assessment the most likely group responsible is the DHKP-C terrorist organisation. The attack is likely in retaliation for the police raids in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and other cities on 18 January, which targeted alleged DHKP-C activists and resulted in 85 arrests.”
According to Exclusive Analysis, in addition to DHKP-C, another group is a possible culprit in the attack. “Another possible perpetrator of the attack would be a splinter group of the Kurdish separatist organisation, the PKK. We forecast in January that if the PKK viewed the killing of three female PKK activists in Paris on 10 January as the work of Turkish security forces they would look to carry out retaliatory attacks,” Melikishvili said.
In July 2011, Kurdish separatists detonated a bomb that killed three people in Ankara.
“We are likely to see IED attacks of similar scale against government and diplomatic assets in the coming months in Turkish cities as groups look to cause casualties and embarrass the government,” Melikishvili's report concluded.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.