The March 13th bombing in Ankara is the third terrorist attack to hit the capital in a six-month period. The blast is a strong indicator for both the elevated terrorist threat Turkey currently faces, as well as the potential risks the country may face in the future.
In less than a month the Turkish capital was hit by two major terrorist attacks. On February 17th, a militant linked to the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) detonated a suicide car-bomb in the centre of Ankara. The blast targeted a military convoy and left 29 dead.
On March 13th, an assailant linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) carried out a suicide car bombing in Ankara’s Kizilay district. The explosion hit a civilian bus in a busy transportation hub, killing at least 37 people. These two bombings followed a major attack conducted by Islamic State (IS)-linked militants on October 10th, 2015, when two suicide bombers detonated their explosive belts in the middle of a peace rally in front of Ankara’s central railway station. The attack left 102 dead and was the worst terrorist bombing in the country’s modern history.
The recent spate of terrorist attacks in Ankara highlights the increasing terrorist threat that negatively affects the capital’s environment. The deterioration of the local security predicament comes against the backdrop of a highly complex situation. Threat groups linked to Kurdish separatist fighters and radical Islamist militants have the will and capabilities to conduct bombings and attacks throughout the country and in its capital.
A Kurdish separatist insurgency
The latest attack in Ankara comes as a reminder of the threat posed by the Kurdish separatist insurgency. Since July 2015, PKK militants along with other Kurdish armed outfits such as the TAK have engaged in a renewed insurgency against Turkey. The bulk of the violence linked to Kurdish militant actions is reported in the southern and southeastern regions of the country, especially in the Mardin, Sirnak, Hakkari and Diyarbakir provinces.
However, PKK and TAK militants have demonstrated their intention and capacity to conduct attacks outside of their strongholds. In August 2015, PKK militants hit a police station in east Istanbul, and in December 2015, TAK fighters detonated an explosive device in Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen airport.
While the attacks in Istanbul are noteworthy, the recent bombings in Ankara mark a potential evolution in Kurdish separatist tactics. The February and March explosions underscore the TAK and PKK’s ability to plan and carry out attacks in the centre of Ankara, as well as the risk of mass casualty bombings hitting civilian soft-targets.
Emboldened by recent YPG successes in Syria, Turkish separatist militants may try to increase the tempo of their attacks in Ankara and Istanbul in an attempt to divert the attention of Turkish security forces currently engaged in major counter-terrorist operations in southeastern provinces of the country.
Effects on Turkish economy and tourism
At this point, terrorist activity in Turkey has not yet translated into any major economic setbacks for the country. However, the prevalence of high-profile attacks in Istanbul and Ankara is raising questions concerning Turkey’s long-term stability. In addition, the March bombing in the capital also leads to concerns over the local security forces ability to prevent future attacks.
Turkish and US officials had warned in late February and early March, respectively, over the imminent risk of attacks in Ankara. Should additional attacks materialise in the short-term, it would raise further questions over the police, military and intelligence establishments’ ability to cope with the current security threat generated by terrorist activity.
Given the protracted nature of the Syrian conflict as well as the ongoing Kurdish separatist insurgency in southeastern regions of the country, the risk of further terrorist attacks is expected to remain a major factor of insecurity in Turkey. As the main touristic season is approaching, additional high-profile incidents in Ankara, Istanbul or the western coast would exponentially increase the risk of negative effects on the national tourist and travel sectors.
Written by Riccardo Dugulin, a Drum Cussac Risk Analyst, this post first appeared on Global Risk Insights, 14 March 2016.
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