Thursday, May 1, 2014
US terror report: Turkey used for transit by radical groups in Syria
The US State Department has said in its annual global terrorism report that Turkey was often used as a transit country in 2013 for foreign fighters seeking to join al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria. Released in Washington on Wednesday, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2013,” said: “Largely because of the ongoing conflict in Syria, Turkey has voiced increasing concern about terrorist groups currently near its border. These groups include al-Qa'ida in Iraq/Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] and al-Nusrah Front. Turkey was often used as a transit country for foreign fighters wishing to join these and other groups in Syria.” The report said that terrorist violence in 2013 was fueled by sectarian motivations, marking a worrisome trend, in particular in Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan, where victims of violence were primarily among civilian populations. Thousands of extremist fighters entered Syria during the year. Among them, a large percentage were reportedly motivated by a sectarian view of the conflict and a desire to protect the Sunni Muslim community from the Alawite-dominated regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime. The State Department report underlined that the key terrorism trend in 2013 developed in Syria, which continues to be a major battleground for terrorism on both sides of the conflict and remains a key area of longer-term concern. It said thousands of foreign fighters traveled to Syria to join the fight against the Assad regime -- with some joining violent extremist groups -- while Iran, Hezbollah and other Shiite militias provided a broad range of critical support to the regime. The report added that some of the thousands of fighters from around the world who are traveling to Syria to do battle against the Assad regime -- particularly from the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Eastern and Western Europe -- are joining violent extremist groups, including the al-Nusra Front and ISIL. A number of key partner governments are becoming increasingly concerned that individuals with violent extremist ties and battlefield experience will return to their home countries or elsewhere to commit acts of terrorism, it said, adding that the scale of this problem has raised concerns about the creation of a new generation of globally committed terrorists, similar to what resulted from the influx of violent extremists to Afghanistan in the 1980s. A major challenge to Europe, the report highlighted, was the increasing travel of European citizens -- mostly young men -- to and from Syria seeking to join forces opposing the Assad regime. The report argued that these “foreign fighters” sparked increasing concerns, and actions to address them, by European countries worried about the growing number of their citizens traveling to battlefields and possibly returning radicalized. In 2013, the report said, Turkey continued to face significant internal terrorist threats and has taken strong action in response. Increased activity by the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), a terrorist Marxist-Leninist group with anti-US and anti-NATO views that seeks the violent overthrow of the Turkish state, threatened the security of both US and Turkish interests. A number of attacks occurred, including a suicide bombing of the US Embassy in February 2013 that killed the bomber and a Turkish guard and injured a visiting Turkish journalist. In its annual global terrorism report the State Department describes as prominent among terrorist groups in Turkey the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). According to the report, the PKK has spoken more often about autonomy within a Turkish state that guarantees Kurdish cultural and linguistic rights. Following three decades of conflict with the PKK terrorist organization, the government and PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan began talks in late 2012 for a peace process. The PKK called for a cease-fire in March, which both sides largely observed, apart from small-scale PKK attacks in late 2013. The report pointed out that approximately 20 terrorist attacks occurred in Turkey in 2013. It said the ones that garnered the most attention were: Feb. 1, a DHKP/C suicide attack against the US Embassy in Ankara; Feb. 11, a car bomb at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria that killed 13 people; March 19, a DHKP/C-coordinated hand grenade attacks on the Ministry of Justice and on the headquarters of the ruling party; May 11, a twin car bombings in Reyhanlı that killed at least 53 people -- the deadliest terrorist attack in Turkey's modern history -- and Sept. 20, a DHKP/C attack at the National Police Department headquarters and police guesthouse with light anti-tank weapons (LAWs). According to the report, the State Department continued to provide counterterrorism assistance to the Turkish national police that focused on institutionalizing advanced skills into Turkey's law enforcement infrastructure and included training in terrorist interdiction and crisis management. It said Turkey increased its cooperation with European countries regarding the status of members of the DHKP/C and also worked closely with European, North African and Middle Eastern countries to prohibit the travel of potential foreign fighters planning to pass through Turkey to Syria, although it remains a transit route for these fighters.