Period: Monday October 30th, 2017 – Monday November 13th, 2017
This report will present the major security incidents that occurred in Turkey from October 30th, 2017 – November 13th, 2017. The incidents are arranged in the following categories: Terrorism (IS, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, PKK/KCK, FETÃ), U.S./NATO – Turkey Relations, Turkish Military Operation in Idlib/Syria, Armed Incidents, Human Trafficking and Narcotics.
Islamic Stateâs (IS) threat to Turkey will be reduced if the detained and later on deported IS members are prevented from re-entering the country. The Turkish military superiority over PKK forces does not deter guerrilla type PKK attacks.Turkish joint military operations with Russia and Iran in Idlib/Syria erodes Turkeyâs alliance with U.S. and NATO.Encrypted messaging applications play an increasingly negative role in Turkeyâs domestic security.
Incidents – Country Wide
Turkish counter terrorism forces launched large scale operations throughout Turkey targeting the Islamic State, PKK/KCK, FETÃ and extreme left organizations. Hundreds of terrorism suspects, mainly from IS, were captured either while preparing to travel to Syria or plotting against Turkey. The full scale military operations against PKK/KCK continued in the south eastern provinces. During targeted airstrikes and clashes with Turkish ground forces many PKK insurgents lost their lives and had their weapon and explosive supplies seized. The crackdown on the GÃ¼len movement continued with many FETÃ suspects arrested and over 1,800 of them appeared at the Sincan Criminal Courthouse in Ankara to be tried. At the Syrian Civil War front, Turkish troops continued establishing security posts and roadblocks in Northern Syria with two new convoys of armored vehicles and military personnel crossing into Idlib. Turkish Prime Minister Binali YÄ±ldÄ±rÄ±m and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met in Washington D.C. and discussed issues concerning the current developments in the Middle East and bilateral issues. Human smugglers targeted the northern provinces of Turkey as human trafficking routes through the Black Sea have re-emerged.
In preparation of the 79th anniversary of the death of Mustafa Kemal AtatÃ¼rk, the founder of the modern Republic of Turkey, commemorated on Nov. 10, large scale counter terrorism operations were conducted in Ankara and Istanbul resulting to hundreds of arrested individuals linked to the Islamic State. Among them, a cell preparing for an attack in Istanbul. The operations increased after MIT, Turkeyâs National Intelligence Organization, informed the security authorities of nearly 800 IS militants who have recently crossed from Syria into Turkey. Large quantities of explosives were found in IS safe houses in Istanbul during investigations over the IS foiled attack at the Forum Shopping Mall in Istanbul. Shorter scale raids were carried out throughout Turkey which led to the arrests of many IS members who were planning to travel to Syria and join the IS there.
Islamic State Incidents
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November 2nd 2017
283 suspected IS members detained in 11 days throughout Turkey
Police authorities announced that they detained a total of 283 suspected IS members – 96 Turkish citizens and 187 foreign nationals – during operations conducted in 25 provinces across Turkey, from October 23rd to November 2nd.
Large quantities of IS explosives seized in Istanbul
Police found 56 bomb set-ups (16 different chemical substances were used) strengthened with aluminum and steel marbles for maximum lethality, 67 bomb molds (3 to 4 kilograms each), 32 propane cylinders, gas cans, iron marbles and four suicide vests in IS safe houses in Istanbul during raids linked to the investigation of the IS foiled attack at the Forum Shopping Mall in Istanbul.
November 9, 2017
220 IS suspects arrested in Ankara
220 IS members were arrested during a counter terrorism operation in Ankara. 1,500 police officers conducted raids in 240 different addresses in Sincan, Etimesgut and Ãubuk districts. Digital and other organizational material was found. The police have arrest warrants for a total of 245 suspects in Ankara province.
The Sincan, Etimesgut and Ãubuk districts of Ankara.
November 10-11, 2017
âForeign Terroristâ operation in Istanbul – 2 Day Operation
116 people accused of having links with the Islamic State were arrested during a 2-day operation in Istanbul. Numerous digital materials and organizational documents were seized at the suspectsâ addresses. The IS suspects will be deported. COMMENT – Of note is that some IS suspects are just being deported, not prosecuted and imprisoned. The likely reason for this is the sheer scale of threats and arrests that Turkey is conducting, targeting numerous different factions, meaning it likely doesn’t have the personnel, capacity and prison space to jail all these people and is therefore forced to deport them. COMMENT ENDS
The âForeign Terroristâ Operation in Istanbul
COMMENT – The number of detainees and seized explosives suggests that the National Intelligence Agency (MÄ°T) and Police authorities have been closely monitoring multiple IS cells. It is known that authorities collect information on the movements of suspected individuals not only by applying a wide array of technical means but with around-the-clock physical surveillance. Raids of such volume and success are likely to be based also on actionable intelligence obtained from human sources involved in Turkeyâs Military Operation in Idlib/Syria. Turkey and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham – HTS (the dominant jihadi group at the rebel-held Idlib, a northern province of Syria) have reached an agreement over Turkeyâs military deployment in Idlib. Within the limits of a broader Turkish-Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham co operation in Idlib, HTS might have agreed on sharing information on IS cells in Turkey or Turkish authorities have a better chance to collect intelligence on IS plots against Turkey as they have more people on the ground in Idlib. Nevertheless, most of the detained people involved in IS activities in Turkey will be deported, and if Turkish border control does not improve they will most likely find their way into Turkey once again – COMMENT ENDS
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham
November 8th 2017
3 Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham members captured in KaÄÄ±thane/Istanbul
3 Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham members were captured in KaÄÄ±thane/Istanbul during a simultaneous operation at 3 addresses. 1 Browning pistol, 2 rifles and a large number of bullets belonging to these weapons were seized. Digital materials and organizational documents were also found at the raided addresses.
COMMENT – Taking into consideration the arrangement Turkey and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) have made for the safe deployment of Turkish troops in Idlib/Syria it is not certain that the HTS members arrested in Istanbul will receive the same strict legal treatment as other Islamic extremists have received, for instance some Islamic State members. If the investigation reveals a HTS terrorist plot against a Turkish target then Turkey might retaliate in Idlib, shaking its fragile relation with HTS and compromising the security of its military personnel – COMMENT ENDS
During its daily operations in the south-eastern provinces, the Turkish Army seized large numbers of PKK IEDâs, including a âbombâ drone, explosives, mines, light and heavy weapons, and destroyed large quantities of food supplies stored in caves. The Turkish Air Force carried out airstrikes in Hakkari’s Åemdinli resulting in many PKK casualties, following a PKK attack with six Turkish soldiers and two village guards killed. More PKK insurgents were killed during operations in ÅÄ±rnak and Tunceli. Police forces detained PKK supporters and members accused of making online propaganda for PKK in the western provinces of AydÄ±n, Ä°zmir, and Edirne.
PKK Incidents – Southeastern Turkey
On a daily basis, Turkish media reported operations against FETÃ suspects. The operations were conducted throughout the country with most of them resulting to numerous people being arrested. The judicial hearings of more than 1,800 FETÃ suspects begun in Ankara on November 6th.
COMMENT – As we have previously reported, most of the FETÃ suspects were arrested accused of having received/sent messages via the encrypted messaging application ByLock. A few weeks ago, a Turkish Court has stated that it is enough for someone to be accused of having links with FETÃ just by having the application installed at their mobile phones. After MIT decrypted hundreds of thousands of ByLock messages the identity of hundreds of people were revealed and arrest warrants are still issued for hundreds of people. The over 1,800 people on trial face serious accusations such as participation in a terrorist organization, plotting against the Turkish State and its institutions, and treason. President Erdogan has repeatedly stated his determination to dismantle FETÃ networks in Turkey and detain anyone who is even remotely associated to them in order to improve state security. And such a trial is an opportunity for him not only to convict and isolate any FETÃ supporters and members, but to position his close and trusted associates in key roles in civilian and military Turkish institutions – COMMENT ENDS
U.S./NATO – Turkey Relations
November 6th, 2017
Limited Visa Services Resume Between U.S. and Turkey
In the statements exchanged on November 6th between Turkey and U.S. both states decided to resume limited visa services. The U.S. Embassy in Ankara claimed that they were reassured from Turkish officials that no other member of staff of the U.S Embassy will be detained for performing their duties. Further, they noted an âimprovement in security postureâ that allows them to resume visa services. Shortly after, the Turkish Embassy in Washington DC issued a statement emphasizing on the âvery serious chargesâ the detained U.S. Embassy employee is investigated.
COMMENT – On November 9, 2017, Turkish Prime Minister Binali YÄ±ldÄ±rÄ±m and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met in Washington D.C.. The meeting was held in an attempt to overcome the recent periodâs dispute over the detention of a U.S. Embassy employee in Turkey and the suspended visa services of both Turkish and U.S. Embassies. Both parties stated that the meeting was successful and that they remain committed to their alliance and cooperation on issues concerning security in the Middle East. Nevertheless, the main obstacles in US-Turkey relations remain the support the Syrian Kurdish Peopleâs Protection Units (YPG) receives from U.S., and Turkeyâs demand for the extradition of the U.S.-based Fethullah GÃ¼len, the leader of GÃ¼len movement, designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey (FethullahÃ§Ä± TerÃ¶r ÃrgÃ¼tÃ¼, “Fethullahist Terror Organization” (FETÃ) – COMMENT ENDS
November 8, 2017
Turkey, Italy and France sign letter of intent to strengthen cooperation on defense systems
Turkeyâs Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli and his Italian and French counterparts signed a letter of intent in Brussels to strengthen cooperation on defence systems, including air and missile defense systems. Last month Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan expressed his intentions to the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg of buying air defense systems from France and Italy in addition to the Russian S-400.
COMMENT – Turkeyâs intent to buy the Russian S-400, a surface-to-air missile system not compatible with NATO equipment, is perceived by NATO members as another sign of Turkeyâs gradual disengagement from its Western allies and a move which serves Russian strategic interests in the broader Middle East. It is also another way for President Erdogan to support his nationalistic/anti-U.S rhetoric used for his domestic political gains. With the letter of intent signed with Italy and France, President Erdogan buys time as he is trying to balance Turkeyâs foreign policy in between a dated alliance with NATO and an emerging one with Russia. Future tensions between Turkey and U.S./NATO seem to be unavoidable as long as Turkey does not adopt a solid policy towards its western allies and continues with unilateral decisions which contrasts NATO interests – COMMENT ENDS
Turkish Military Operation in Idlib/Syria
Turkish military forces are working intensively to establish security checkpoints and roadblocks at strategic locations in the cities of Atmeh, Kafr Lusin, Qah, Salwa and Darat Izza in northern Idlib. Turkish Armed Forces announced that they have officially established two observation posts. On November 3rd and November 7th additional Turkish armored vehicles and troops crossed into the Idlib Province and have been deployed to watchtowers along the Idlib-Afrin line.
IDLIB OPERATION TIMELINE
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COMMENT – Turkeyâs military presence in Northern Syria is currently presumed to be medium to long term as are the two main challenges/objectives in Idlib: preventing YPGâs expansion to the West and containing the Islamic terrorist groups based in Idlib. Turkey is leaning towards a broad alliance with Russia and Iran at the moment. Itâs an alliance that assists Turkey to promote its interests more efficiently at the region, enhances Turkeyâs diplomatic posture over U.S and undermines U.S and NATO interests in Northern Syria – a fact that serves Russian and Turkish strategic objectives, Russia expelling U.S from Northern Syria and Turkey shrinking the U.S – backed YPG respectively. At the moment, there are multiple indications that Assadâs forces will launch an offensive to recapture Idlib Province from rebel forces. Apart from statements, such as the one from Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top adviser on international affairs, who said that he expects â the Syrian army to soon recapture the rebel-held Idlib provinceâ, SAA forces are amassing in northern Hama province bordering Idlib. The Syrian Defence Forces (mainly Kurds) have also stated that they will not tolerate a Turkish occupation of Syria. As the Revolutionary Forces Commander General Ehmed Sultan (Ebu Erac) stated âWe will not allow for Turkey’s Idlib invasion to succeedâ. Another factor which complicates even more the situation in Idlib is the HTS rivalry with the Free Syrian Army Turkey-backed jihadi groups. All the above actors have stated their will and determination to engage in fierce armed conflict in order to either recapture or defend the Idlib territories. Turkish military forces are now stationed in northern Idlib and are exposed to what seems to be a future armed conflict of massive scale – COMMENT ENDS
Armed Incidents – Murders and Weapons Trafficking
During the last two weeks several armed incidents occurred. Most of them were cases of verbal disputes which escalated to armed fights, resulting in many shot dead or seriously injured. A few incidents involved shootings on passing cars and vehicles forced to stop and having their passengers executed from a close range. During vehicle stop-and-search police operations, a number of weapons and bullets were seized.
Armed Incidents – Murders/Injuries and Weapons Trafficking
COMMENT – The Istanbul based Umut Foundation reported that there are 25 million privately owned weapons in Turkey. Up to October 2017, 2,765 armed incidents were recorded with 1700 people killed and 2,874 injured. More than 80% of the weapons used in Turkey are unlicensed. There are two reasons for such a high number of unlicenced weapons. First the lack of strict regulations – the fine of possessing an unlicensed weapon is around 6,000 TL – and second, the easy access to all sorts of weapons online. Online purchase of arms is a growing trend at the moment in Turkey. Similar online weapon trade is taking place in Idlib/Syria mostly through encrypted messaging applications, such as Telegram. The variety of weapons available for sale in those online âmarketsâ range from an assault rifle and suicide vest to even armored vehicles and anti-tank weapons. People posting such sale advertisements are mostly located at the capital city of Idlib. Even though communication via web placed applications is easy and instant, the presence of people currently residing in Turkey, previously based in Idlib and involved in weapons trading, could potentially facilitate weapons trafficking into Turkey. Distant arrangements between Turkish âclientsâ and Syrian âsellersâ are likely to be made via encrypted communication applications. As the traffic between the Idlib/Syria and Hatay/Turkey provinces has been restored, with the Bab al-Hawa and Cilvegozu Border Crossings open again, weapons traffickers have a direct route to smuggle the ordered weapons into Turkey. Web based messaging applications have been and are increasingly playing a negative role in Turkeyâs deteriorating domestic security. Encrypted apps were/are used by terrorists, members of the Gulen Movement based their organizationâs communications on an encrypted app, and similar apps are increasingly preferred for weapons and explosives trade in Turkey. Considering how online communication is supporting major domestic threats in Turkey, it is likely that Turkish officials will proceed to the limitation or even the ban of using instant messaging applications, such as Telegram, in the near future – COMMENT ENDS
Most of the human trafficking incidents recorded in the Intelligence Fusion Database shows that human smugglers choose a northern route until they reach Turkeyâs openings to the Black Sea and from there attempt to reach the Romanian coasts. Large numbers of immigrants were caught while en route to the Black Sea departure points or in boats at the Aegean sea, attempting to cross the border to Greece/Europe.
Human Trafficking Incidents
COMMENT – In one of its latest reports, Europol emphasised new, dangerous concealment methods in airtight containers and vans, or in vehicle engine compartments, used in human smuggling, mainly during border crossings. In Turkey, most of the immigrants are detained when travelling in large numbers at the mainland, in passenger buses and mini-vans and, setting aside the usual excessive number of passengers onboard the buses, they are not in significant danger. Further, immigrants having Italy as their point of entry to Europe are transferred with leisure vessels – mostly sailing yachts. The weather conditions and the quality of the boats used by immigrants to cross the routes at the Aegean and Black Sea are the main dangers for their lives – especially at the re-emerging human trafficking routes of the Black Sea, notorious for its stormy conditions. The winter season will most likely discourage human smugglers from choosing sea routes and a rise of human trafficking incidents is expected at the Edirne Province near the Turkish-Greek land border – COMMENT ENDS
Heavy loads of heroin were once again seized at the provinces of Van and AÄrÄ±. In ÅanlÄ±urfa and Diyarbakir it was mostly large quantities of cannabis that was found hidden in all sorts of vehicles, including a tanker truck. Counter narcotics police forces conducted large scale operations against drug dealers in Istanbul, Adana and DÃ¼zce.
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ADAM RAWNSLEY, ERIC WOODS, CHRISTIAAN TRIEBERT, 6 NOVEMBER 2017, Foreign Policy, The Messaging App Fueling Syriaâs Insurgency, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/11/06/the-messaging-app-fueling-syrias-insurgency-telegram-arms-weapons/
Andrew Roth, 26 June 2017, The Washington Post, Russia says extremists planned deadly bombing using encrypted chat app Telegram
ANF News, 30 October 2017, âWe will not allow for Turkey’s Idlib invasion to succeedâ,
Al Jazeera, 5 July 2017 Telegram app ‘full of terrorist propaganda’ blocked, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/telegram-app-full-terrorist-propaganda-blocked-170715092142041.html
Cansu ÅimÅek, 5 November 2017, HÃ¼rriyet Daily News, Easy access to unlicensed personal weapons in Turkey raising concerns http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/easy-access-to-unlicensed-personal-weapons-in-turkey-raising-concerns-121961
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia,Canberra. 2017. Turkey. http://smartraveller.gov.au/countries/europe/southern/pages/turkey.aspx
Europol, 13 October 2017, Press Release:RECENT TRENDS IN MIGRANT SMUGGLING: CRIMINAL GROUPS USE LIFE-ENDANGERING CONCEALMENT METHODS
Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2017, UK. Turkey. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/turkey
McCabe, M. & Harrington, D. 2017. Intelligence Fusion Platform [Online]. London: Ambix. Available: https://www.intelligencefusion.co.uk
Ministry of Interior. Republic of Turkey. November 2017, https://www.icisleri.gov.tr/
Panagiotis Vasilias, September 10, 2017, Islamic State Threat to Turkey, Intelligence Fusion, https://www.intelligencefusion.co.uk/single-post/2017/09/10/Islamic-State-Threat-to-Turkey
Reuters, 8 November 2017, Iran’s Velayati says east Syria, Idlib to be cleared ‘soon’ http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-iran/irans-velayati-says-east-syria-idlib-to-be-cleared-soon-idUSKBN1D82D3?il=0
Turkish armed forces, November 2017, http://www.tsk.tr/YurticiOlaylar
Report written by Panagiotis Vasilias