In the aftermath of a bloody attack on the US Embassy in Ankara last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has lashed out at critics of an earlier police operation against the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) as a result of which 55 suspected members of the terrorist group, including lawyers, were arrested.
The prime minister complained that the police were the targets of harsh criticism due to the operation.
“You all know about the measures taken [by security forces] against the DHKP/C. You also witnessed a police operation against the group. Lawyers and some top members of the group were captured. Yet there are people inside and outside [Turkey] who defend them. One of them is the Republican People's Party [CHP]. The fight against a terrorist organization in a country where the main opposition party is a supporter of that organization is not easy at all,” Erdoğan said on Sunday at a press conference he called before leaving for the Czech Republic.
Police detained nearly 100 DHKP/C members in January, and 55 of them have been arrested pending trial on accusations of being members of a terrorist organization. Police seized a large number of documents from the suspects' addresses that apparently revealed the group's plans to assassinate politicians, judges, prosecutors and police officers. The arrests drew the ire of some people, particularly critics of the government, who said the arrests were the latest operation by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to crack down on its opponents.
Erdoğan also said Turkey would root out all terrorist groups in Turkey with the help of the people. “Our duty is to ensure the security and welfare of our people. We will do our utmost to achieve this,” he stated.
The prime minister's remarks came on the heels of a terrorist attack on the US Embassy on Feb. 1, that killed two -- including a suicide bomber and a Turkish security guard, and critically injured one -- a journalist on her way to visit the ambassador.
The DHKP/C claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on a website of an organization known to be close to the group. “Our warrior [Ecevit Şanlı] carried out an act of self-sacrifice by entering the Ankara embassy of the United States, murderer of the peoples of the world,” the statement said.
Police detained three people on Saturday in connection with the bomb attack. Two of the suspects were being questioned by police in Ankara, while the third -- taken into custody in İstanbul -- was being taken to Ankara. According to the police, the attacker used six kg of TNT explosives.
Also on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said critics of a police operation against the DHKP/C should re-think their position in the wake a terrorist attack on the US Embassy.
“I recommend that those who criticize the police operation against the DHKP/C and other terrorist organizations re-think their position. I believe the critics, particularly the Republican People's Party [CHP], will reconsider their position in the wake of the latest attack,” Bozdağ said. “Terrorism is unacceptable whoever it comes from. I'd like to express, once again, that I condemn the terrorist attack on the US Embassy. I hope our journalist colleague [injured in the attack] will recover quickly,” the deputy prime minister stated.
He also said the ongoing investigation will provide more detailed information about the “background” of the bomb attack.
“It is evident to all of us that the DHKP/C carried out the attack. It has also revealed how the sons of this nation have been deceived by the terrorist group, how their futures were ruined and how they were killed. I hope critics of the DHKP/C operation will think about their criticism and see that they are wrong,” Bozdağ added.
Police after more possible suicide bombers
Police sources have said the suicide bomber was one of a number of possible bombers from the terrorist DHKP/C and efforts are ongoing to capture the other members of the team.
The attacker, Şanlı, was among those on a list of 15 potential suicide bombers that police discovered last month had entered Turkey illegally. The police sent photos and other detailed information about the bombers to police stations nationwide, asking police teams to be on the alert for the team. According to the police notice, the bombers were trained by terrorist organizations or sponsors in Greece, Germany, Syria and Belgium. Şanlı, 40, was trained in Germany, according to police. He had previously been imprisoned in Turkey after staging an attack on a military facility in 1997. He was released in 2001 due to poor health.
Police teams are now mobilized to capture the other 14 potential suicide bombers.
The DHKP/C, considered a terrorist organization in Turkey, the US and Europe, has carried out nearly a dozen terrorist attacks over the past seven months in Turkey, including Friday's embassy attack. Intelligence reports suggest that the DHKP/C uses militants who suffer from a terminal illness in suicide attacks.
Şanlı was one of them. He was diagnosed with Wenicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a malnutrition-related brain illness that affects vision, muscle coordination and memory and can cause hallucinations.
Interior Minister Muammer Güler told reporters on Saturday that the attacker had fled Turkey after his release from prison in 2001. According to Güler, the attacker re-entered Turkey illegally earlier this year with a false ID.
Footage from a security camera in the US Embassy showed the attacker dressed as a courier approaching the gate with a package in his hands.
Claims were raised that the DHKP/C was hoping to stall the current peace process in Turkey with the attack. Turkish state authorities have been engaged in talks with the jailed leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, to broker a deal for the disarmament of the group. Öcalan, imprisoned on İmralı Island in the Marmara Sea south of İstanbul since his capture in 1999, has significant influence among PKK members and supporters. The Turkish state believes talks with the terrorist leader may lead to a timetable for the withdrawal of PKK terrorists from Turkey and eventual disarmament.
Some PKK commanders, however, are opposed to the disarmament of the terrorist group. The DHKP/C is known to have cooperated with the PKK in several past attacks. According to rumors, the attack on the embassy is a message from those PKK commanders that the terrorist group will carry on its bloody campaign even while the state works to urge the PKK to lay down its arms.
Father: My son ruined my entire family
The father of the suicide bomber, Sadık Şanlı, said he has not seen his son for nearly 15 years. “He did not only ruin his own life. He ruined our lives, too,” he told reporters.
Sadık Şanlı lives in the northern province of Ordu and is the father of seven children. He said he learned about the attack on the US Embassy and death of his son from TV. “I haven't seen him for a long time. I haven't heard from him. I am a shepherd. He left for İstanbul after performing his military service. I haven't seen him since them,” the father said. He also said he does not know how his son became involved in “dirty business.” “He set himself on fire. He set me on fire, too. I have nothing else to say.”
The father also said one of his other sons will go to İstanbul to retrieve the bomber's body. “We will take his body to our village. He was not with us when he was alive. He will be with us after his death,” he added.
Şanlı's remains were released to his family on Sunday, and he was buried in his village in Ordu.
Meanwhile, journalist Didem Tuncay who was critically wounded in the head in the attack is now doing much better, her doctors said on Saturday.
The chief physician of Ankara Numune Hospital, where Tuncay was taken after the deadly bombing, told reporters on Saturday that Tuncay's health is improving after a series of surgeries on Friday. Stating that Tuncay is conscious and able to communicate, Professor Nurullah Zengin said she will be kept at the hospital's intensive care unit until Monday, when he said her doctors will re-evaluate her condition.
On Saturday, the security guard who was killed in the attack, Mustafa Akarsu, was buried in Ankara's Kızılcahamam district. Ankara Governor Alaaddin Yüksel, US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone and his spouse, Akarsu's colleagues, and many citizens participated in the funeral ceremony.