The president of Turkey, where coordinated al-Qaeda attacks in İstanbul killed more than 60 people and wounded hundreds in 2003, hailed on Monday the killing of Osama bin Laden, underlining that it should serve as a warning to terrorist leaders elsewhere that they would be caught “dead or alive.”
“This shows that terrorists and terrorist group leaders in the end are caught, whether dead or alive. The most dangerous and sophisticated terrorist organization leader in the world being caught in this way should be a lesson to everyone. I am very pleased with [this development],” President Abdullah Gül said in response to a question at a news conference at Ankara Esenboğa Airport ahead of his departure to Vienna for an official visit.The al-Qaeda leader was killed in a firefight with US forces in Pakistan on Sunday. US President Barack Obama announced the death of bin Laden, the mastermind of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, during a historic White House address.
Turkey’s leaders unanimously laud the killing of bin Laden, who they say abused Islam, while also calling on the international community to also display the same kind of solidarity which they showed against al-Qaeda against the PKK, since terrorism is a crime against humanity
Militants from al-Qaeda were also behind two sets of twin suicide bombings that hit İstanbul five days apart in November 2003. The separate attacks via explosive-laden trucks targeted first two synagogues, and then the British consulate and HSBC headquarters in Turkey, killing 57 people, including then British Consul General Roger Short, and injuring 700 others.
Underlining that Turkey is a country which has played a pioneer role in the global war against terror, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in Ankara on Monday that in the recent period, Laden had been engaging in extremely destructive work that aims at relating Islam and terrorism.
“Perhaps, one of the most negative impacts of the extremely destructive works carried out in terms of global terror by al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden is the fact that they have been conducive to a connection being made in some way between Islam -- which has been the reference of a rooted civilization that has made great contributions to humanity throughout history -- and terror,” Davutoğlu was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency in response to questions from reporters. He added that these extremely destructive actions were also used as material by certain circles.
The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, called the death an “an extremely important step in the field of the fight against terrorism in our times,” while recalling the 2003 attacks in İstanbul.
“Al-Qaeda, and bin Laden, has been part of unacceptable efforts, such as gaining legitimacy for the terrorist activities it has planned or encouraged via abusing the religion of Islam,” the ministry said in a written statement. Stressing that Turkey is strongly against the exploitation of Islam and efforts to link Islam and terrorism, it warned, “It is extremely important for international society to accordingly make this differentiation.”
In Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya, Turkey’s Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül expressed his wish on Monday that the international alliance against al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden be maintained against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), too. Gönül, in response to questions from reporters, said he considered the killing of bin Laden a sign that nobody can achieve anything through terrorism.
“[I hope that] this alliance against Osama bin Laden will also be maintained against the terrorism directed against Turkey. That’s to say, you know that Osama bin Laden harmed Turkey, too. The harm to the bank, the harm to the embassies, their activities in Gaziantep, you know all of its other activities. I hope that the entire world maintains the same kind of alliance that it has held against Laden against the PKK as well,” Gönül was quoted as saying by Anatolia.
The PKK, which took up arms in 1984 to fight for self-rule in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority Southeast, is listed as a terrorist organization by the majority of the international community, including the United States and the European Union. The PKK, which has bases in northern Iraq, has sparked a conflict that has cost about 45,000 lives. Its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was captured in Kenya in 1999 and has, since, been serving a life sentence in a prison on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara.
PKK and solemnity of a state
In Erzurum, Interior Minister Osman Güneş, said on Monday that time will show the repercussions of the death of bin Laden, calling bin Laden “one of the biggest threats to Turkey’s internal security.”
“In the recent past, we launched operations against the al-Qaeda terrorist organization which have yielded huge results. As a matter of fact, this shows that -- and this should show -- terror is a problem of the world and it is a crime against the humanity. There is definitely a need for international cooperation for struggling against terrorism,” Güneş was quoted as saying by Anatolia.
Earlier this month, Turkish police detained 10 suspected members of al-Qaeda in raids in the eastern province of Van. The İstanbul Police Department had detained 42 suspected al-Qaeda members earlier the same day as well.
Turkish police in late December detained 10 suspected al-Qaeda militants who they believe were planning an attack before New Year’s Day. Eight of the suspects were detained in anti-terrorism raids in the northwestern city of Bursa and two in İstanbul. Turkish police often arrest suspected Islamist militants and describe them as having links to al-Qaeda, though details seldom emerge. Around 120 al-Qaeda suspects were detained last January in raids mostly carried out in the Southeast.
“For years, we have been struggling due to the PKK terrorist organization. For this reason, we have had martyrs, but we have been continuing our struggle in solemnity, which befits a state. We have always shared our rightfulness and our quest for support with our friends,” Güneş said.
Turkey frequently complains that European countries are not effectively fighting the PKK by failing to respond to Turkey’s extradition requests and turning a blind eye to PKK activities to raise funds and spread propaganda in their territories. The United States is cooperating with Turkey to curb the activities of the PKK in northern Iraq, used by the terrorist group as a springboard for attacks on Turkey.
Last month, the United States designated five leaders of the PKK as drug traffickers, adding them to a sanctions list that already covers the terrorist group more generally. The US move to designate PKK leaders as drug traffickers came a few days after the EU’s police agency, Europol, released a report that said PKK/Kongra-Gel was involved in drug smuggling and other illegal activities such as trafficking in human beings and money laundering in Europe to raise funds. In 2003, the PKK changed its name to the Kurdistan People’s Congress (Kongra-Gel), but in Turkey it is still widely referred to as the PKK as the name change has indicated no change in the terrorist group’s leadership structure or activities.