Erdogan: Turkey Battling ‘Terrorist Wave’ After Istanbul Bombing

ISTANBUL (Reuters) -
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the audience during an education congress in Istanbul, Sunday, March 20, 2016. Erdogan said on Sunday that terror groups will be defeated. It was the first time Erdogan spoke after the terrorist attack that hit Istanbul on Saturday, killing five, including the suicide bomber. (Kayhan Ozer, Presidential Press Service, Pool via AP)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the audience during an education congress in Istanbul, Sunday. (Kayhan Ozer, Presidential Press Service, Pool via AP)

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Turkey would use all its military and intelligence might to battle “one of the biggest and bloodiest terrorist waves in its history,” after a suicide bomber killed three Israelis and an Iranian in Istanbul.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon described Turkey as “awash in terrorism.” Turkey’s main opposition party blamed what it called the government’s “adventure-seeking policies” in the Middle East for turmoil washing across Syria’s borders.

The weekend attack on Istiklal Street, a long pedestrian avenue lined with international stores and foreign consulates, was the fourth suicide bombing in Turkey this year. Two in Istanbul have been blamed on Islamic State, while the two others in the capital Ankara have been claimed by Kurdish terrorists.

The attacks have raised questions at home and among NATO allies as to whether its security services are overstretched as they fight on two fronts.

“Turkey has recently been facing one of the biggest and bloodiest terrorist waves in its history … Our state is fighting terrorist organizations and the forces behind them with everything at its disposal – its soldiers, police, village guards and its intelligence,” Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul.

But his critics, including privately some of Turkey’s allies, argue that Erdogan’s focus on battling Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) terrorists in the largely Kurdish southeast – a campaign he has repeatedly vowed will continue – comes at the expense of its fight against Islamic State.

Erdogan said the PKK and other groups were working with Islamic State and had turned on Turkey because they had failed to achieve their aims elsewhere in the region. He accused Europe of “two-faced behavior” for allowing PKK sympathizers to set up a tent near an EU-Turkey summit in Brussels last week.

Turkey has seen phases of civil disorder, a military coup in 1960, and left-right street clashes in the 1970s and 1980s that triggered two further army interventions. The Kurdish conflict has also caused widespread bloodshed, but rarely has a Turkish government faced such serious domestic conflicts simultaneously.

Turkey is part of a U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but is also fighting PKK separatists in its southeast, where it sees an upsurge in violence since July as fueled by the territorial gains of a Kurdish militia in Syria.

Yaalon said the roots of the violence lay in radical Islam which he said was “flooding the world.”

“What must be ensured is that terrorism is not initiated, like the way Hamas initiates terrorism against us, from Turkey, from Istanbul,” he said in a speech, in a swipe at Ankara’s support for the Palestinian Islamist terrorist group, which Israel sees an obstacle to repairing bilateral ties.

Government officials deny suggestions that Turkey, long seen by Washington as a model for Islamic democracy but now facing Western criticism over its human rights policies, is not focused on fighting Islamic State.

But the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which has criticized what it sees as a pro-Sunni sectarian meddling in Syria, blamed Turkish foreign policy.

“What we are going through now is the result of the [ruling] AK Party’s unstable, contradictory, utopian, adventure-seeking policies in the Middle East,” CHP group deputy chairman Engin Altay told a press conference in Parliament.