Suspected ISIL bombing worries Turks

The blast at the Turkey-Syria border is the latest round of similar attacks since the beginning of the war in Syria.

HDP co-chair Demirtas (R) strongly rebuked pro-AK party media for trying to link the HDP with violence, writes Barchard [Getty]

Few events have convulsed Turkey in recent years as the explosion on Monday morning in the southeastern town of Suruc which killed 32 people and wounded at least 100 more.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu immediately dispatched three cabinet ministers from his caretaker government to Suruc and opposition parties have sent their own fact-finding delegations.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has been particularly affected. One of its deputies lost his wife and his son in the explosion.

The attack was a suicide bombing carried out by someone with a clear target – a group of 300 young Turks (as opposed to ethnic Kurds) belonging to a socialist society, who were planning to go as workers to help rebuild Kobane.

They were sitting in a group waiting for others to join them when the bomb went off. So far no one (including ISIL) has claimed responsibility. Turkey’s prime minister has said the authorities took effective precautions and that the bomber might even have been a member of the target group.

Suruc is only about 10km north of Kobane, the Kurdish-held northern Syria border town which last year fought a long and ultimately successful struggle lasting nearly six months to repel ISIL.

There were several smaller explosions in Kobane as well on Monday morning, apparently linked to the one in Suruc. Kobane may have driven out ISIL, but it is still subject to serious bomb attacks from its fighters. Several powerful explosions there on June 25 and the following days killed at least 146 people.

Suicide attack kills scores in Turkish town near Syria

Turkey in the crosshairs

So at first sight, the Suruc attack which was clearly skilfully planned and was based on good intelligence, is part of the war between the Kurds and ISIL.

But it comes at a time when the attitude towards ISIL has become clearly hostile in Turkey and there has been a wave of suspected ISIL members in provinces across Turkey.

Some Turks quickly drew the conclusion that ISIL has launched a violent campaign in their country – relief workers in the southeast dealing with Syrian refugees have long been warning about this.

An MP from the Justice and Development Party (AK party) in the eastern Mediterranean port of Mersin even voiced the fear after the bombing that conditions in Turkey might rapidly go the way of Syria. He was evidently speaking from local knowledge: Two people were wounded during rallies in Mersin later in the day demonstrating against the bombing in Suruc.

Multiple attacks in the past

Bomb attacks apparently linked to ISIL are in fact not a novelty in Turkey. In May 2013, 52 people died and 146 were injured at the border town of Reyhanli. The Turkish government blamed the Syrian regime but that seems to be a minority opinion. Earlier the same year there had been a similar attack in Cilvegözü.

The test Turkey now faces is to ensure that the tragedy at Suruc remains an isolated incident and in particular that violence does not spread to its metropolitan cities.


Recent attacks have concentrated on the pro-Kurdish HDP, which suffered attacks on several of its regional officers earlier this year and an attack on its main election rally in Diyarbakir on the eve of the June 7 elections. Four people were killed in a double bombing which went off before the meeting. At least one of those responsible has been caught. The suspect Orhan Gonder was known to have links with ISIL, but police surveillance of him was called off a day before the bombing.

The attacks on the HDP appear to be a conscious attempt to drive ordinary Kurds to break with democratic politics and resort to violence against the government. This could conceivably plunge the country as a whole into disorder. But if there is such a strategy, who is behind it?

Many Kurds are convinced that the government, despite its current declarations, is somehow linked to ISIL. Ozgur Gundem, the country’s main pro-Kurdish paper, claimed that the AK party and Turkey’s intelligence service were aware of the attacks in advance.

Kurdish aspect

The Kurdish movement faces potentially very serious splits over the attacks. Cemil Bayik, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) main guerrilla leader, has long wanted a return to armed struggle. On July 21, a Turkish soldier died in Adiyaman (a town about 120km north of Suruc) in a clash with the PKK. There have been other armed clashes with the PKK this week in the northeast of the country.

Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP co-leader who won an unexpected 13 percent of the votes in the general election, has appealed for calm, stressing the origins of the victims in western Turkey. He also strongly rebuked pro-AK party media for trying to link the HDP with violence, thus stoking tensions even higher.

Demirtas himself has to be personally vigilant. His party’s security officials rejected even a bouquet of flowers which arrived unexpectedly at his office.

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In Istanbul, police officers’ leaves has been halved. Turkey’s future depends on the ability of its security forces to ensure that there are no further events like Suruc. On July 21, the day after the bombing, they intercepted a 100kg bomb in Tunceli province.

The test Turkey now faces is to ensure that the tragedy at Suruc remains an isolated incident and in particular that violence does not spread to its metropolitan cities.

The country has a fairly good record of fending off violence in places like Ankara and Istanbul. The probability is that the Suruc bombing shows that ISIL is still largely confined to the area along the Syria border. But for the moment, no one is betting too heavily on this.

David Barchard, based in Turkey, has widely covered Turkish domestic and foreign policy.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.