Tension Rises In Turkey After Third Terrorist Attack This Year

CREDIT: Selahattin Sonmez/Hurriyet Daily via AP, TURKEY OUT

Damaged vehicles are seen at the scene of an explosion in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 13, 2016.

At least 37 were killed when a car filled with explosives detonated near government buildings in the heart of the Turkish capital on Sunday evening. The bombing marks the third attack in Turkey since the start of 2016 and was cited by the country’s president as evidence that the conflict in neighboring Syria was spilling over across the border.

“Turkey has become a target of terror attacks due to the instabilities in the region,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement. “Terror attacks – which intend to target the integrity of Turkey, unity and solidarity of our people – do not diminish our will to fight against terror, but further boost it.”

The attack, however, has raised questions about the government’s ability to ensure security since the U.S. Embassy in Ankara warned its citizens of a “possible threat” in a nearby area.

“There is information regarding a potential terrorist plot to attack Turkish government buildings and housing located in the Bahcelievler area of Ankara,” a message to U.S. citizens said. “U.S. citizens should avoid this area.”

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack although Turkish security officials have told reporters that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is likely to blame. The country’s Interior Minister said that an investigation into the bombing would be concluded on Monday, and that individuals responsible for it would be named.

Sunday’s attack follows another car bombing last month which left 29 people dead. In January, eleven German tourists were killed in a suicide bombing in Istanbul’s main tourist area. Turkey saw its largest terrorist attack in October, when more than 100 people died in twin suicide bombings at a pro-Kurdish peace rally in Ankara.

The increased frequency of such deadly attacks has raised alarm for Turkish citizens and tourists alike.

Family members and friends carry the Turkish flag-draped coffin of Murat Gul, 20, a security agent killed in Sunday's explosion during his funeral procession in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, March 14, 2016.

Family members and friends carry the Turkish flag-draped coffin of Murat Gul, 20, a security agent killed in Sunday’s explosion during his funeral procession in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, March 14, 2016.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici

Mehmet Arabaci told the New York Times that he and other residents of Ankara have been avoiding crowded areas in the aftermath of a series of attacks there and in Istanbul in recent months.

“We don’t know when and where there will be another attack, but it’s apparent now that they can’t be prevented, and everyone is on edge,” he said.

The spate of attacks has added to perceptions of instability in a country that has long been a popular tourist destination.

More than 250,000 British tourists, for example, visit Turkey each year. The United Kingdom is now urging them to stay away from central Ankara. French tourists have also been warned to stay vigilant of attacks in tourist areas and in commercial centers.

Turkey has long been embroiled in a conflict with Kurdish forces within its own borders, and since the collapse of a two year ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK last July, violent clashes between the two groups have become common. Turkey’s spiraling conflict with the Kurds, however, has crucial implications for the fight against ISIS and Turkey’s relations with its NATO allies.

While the United States designates the PKK a terrorist group, it views Syrian Kurds as an important component of the strategy to wipe out ISIS. The Turkish government, meanwhile, insists that the two groups share ideological and tactical ties, and fears that the success of Kurdish militants in Iraq and Syria — including those with U.S. and European backing — will encourage Turkish Kurdish separatists like the PKK. The Turkish government has has been bombarding the positions of Syrian Kurds and along with ISIS encampments in Syria, which Kurdish militants say helps ISIS. On Monday, Turkish warplanes struck Kurdish militant camps in northern Iraq.

Until the recent bombings, the violence between Turkish security and Kurdish forces was mostly confined to Turkey’s southeast, which is home to both most of Turkey’s Kurdish minority and the PKK stronghold. Many towns in the region are subject to extended curfews and military operations.

CNN intelligence and security analyst Robert Baer said this recent attack could push Erdogan into pursuing “a full-on war with the Kurds.” Two more southeastern towns were placed under curfew on Sunday in preparation for “large-scale operations,” according to local media. Since the collapse of the ceasefire, violence in the southeast has killed hundreds, including civilians, say human rights organizations.