As its two-fronted war on terror heats up, Turkey is taking a page from the world powers.
In the wake of a suspected Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) bombing and almost daily attacks on its security forces by Kurdish guerrillas, Ankara this week launched a programme to offer rewards of up to $1.4m for information on terrorists operating within the country.
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According to the official gazette, informant rewards will be based on the “value of the information in preventing terrorism crimes and catching the suspects”.
Anonymous reports on the identity or location of a suspected terrorist can be awarded up to $70,000, but the award can by multiplied by 20 if the suspect is a terrorist leader or the crime exposed could have caused unrest.
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Interestingly, the reward system applies to everybody in Turkey, not just Turkish citizens.
Echoes from the globe
Ankara has in the past offered much smaller payouts for terrorist information, but the new programme echoes the more ambitious schemes in the United States and China.
In the past year, Chinese authorities have begun offering significant rewards for terrorist information in Tibet and the autonomous Xinjiang province.
As in Turkey, the plan followed a series of attacks by separatist militant group of a minority – Islamist Uighurs in China, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in Turkey.
The US launched its global Rewards for Justice programme in 1984, following a series of bombings on US embassies and bases in Lebanon and Kuwait. Currently topping the list are Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, a top ISIL official ($7m reward), and Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, the ISIL spokesman ($5m).
Over three decades, the programme has paid out more than $125m and helped track down more than a dozen terrorist leaders, including Ramzi Yousef, who plotted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Uday and Qusay Hussein, the sons of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (that payout was the programme’s largest ever, at $30m).
Cynics might view Ankara’s new rewards programme as another effort by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party to whip up more nationalist sentiment and divide Turkey between ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the lead up to a November 1 election.
Yet, its success has been limited. True believers, terrorists tend to be loyal, rarely ratting on their fighting brethren. They also tend to dislike and distrust powerful governments. Confidential systems often fail, and informant names find a way to get out, blowing protection.
Sometimes the reward is paid out to the wrong person, as happened with the capture of the 20th 9/11 bomber, Zacarias Moussaoui. And in some instances, the payment is never made, as with the $5m reward for the capture of a Colombian drug lord.
The Turkish case
Still, with its new policy, Turkey could take a major step forward in its fight against terrorism. The threat of further ISIL attacks is very real. Jihadis linked to the group have already made at least three successful attacks on Turkey, and a police intelligence report early this year estimated that ISIL had up to 3,000 supporters within Turkey.
And whatever one’s view of the renewed Turkey-PKK conflict – the Kurdish militant group, which is viewed as a terrorist group by the US and EU – the PKK has, in the past 50 days, killed more than 65 Turkish security officers (Turkey, meanwhile, has killed several hundred Kurdish militants with its air strikes.)
Information that can help avoid further attacks or break up terrorist networks will make Turkish citizens safer.
But Ankara must be careful. First, it must narrow its definition of terrorist. In recent days Turkey has arrested foreign journalists on terror-related charges and raided nearly two dozen Gulen-backed businesses on accusations of terrorist financing. Tips of this nature should not be included in the rewards programme.
Some observers have criticised China’s rewards programme for going too far. In Urumqi, the capital of the Uighur region Xinjiang, for instance, police can reward people who report the production of face-covering gowns.
Similarly, Ankara must be wary of rewarding information about, for instance, somebody who provides food or shelter to a person with distant links to Kurdish militants, or about a group advising PKK fighters to give up their weapons.
The government has already declared 120 areas in 15 provinces in southeast Turkey “special security zones”, enabling harsher police and military tactics.
The rewards programme is likely to further exacerbate tensions between Turks and Kurds, but expanding the definition of terrorist could lead to the widespread persecution Turkey’s southeast saw in the 1980s and 1990s, sparking broader conflict and further destabilising a region already dealing with the fallout of Syria’s war.
The new programme may also spark rivalries between terrorist groups, from ISIL, to the PKK, to DHKP-C, as each tries to inform on the other.
Turkey should establish a multi-department committee to determine rewards payouts and beef up the security and monitoring of its tip submission system to keep information secure and weed out false tips.
Cynics might view Ankara’s new rewards programme as another effort by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party to whip up more nationalist sentiment and divide Turkey between “us” and “them” in the lead up to a November 1 election. But that seems a bit of a stretch.
With any luck, Turkey’s leaders will in the months ahead appreciate that the objective of this programme is not greater power or more violence, but greater security, and, ultimately, peace.
David Lepeska, is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. His work focuses on Turkey and the Middle East.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.