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Hit the City

November 1, 2010

Many thanks to that gentleman Mark Lanegan for allowing me to quote him when I discuss the suicide bomber yesterday. Maybe I’ll even be able to impress Aengus at the next (first?) tweet-up.

This city is a big city, and it does not take bombings lightly. That said, 32 people were injured Sunday morning in a suicide bombing, and there doesn’t seem to be any clue as to why. It hit the city with no rhyme nor reason, and has left everyone in some state of shock. Or at least shrug.

Normally these sorts of bombings are blamed on, if not done by, the PKK. Well, I say normally, but the truth is that there aren’t attacks in Istanbul hardly ever. The Gungoren bomb(s) of two years ago were very much a shock at the time, and the bus bombing west of the city earlier this year was at least an attack on a military-esque thing. So those fit the rubric. But Taksim? Taksim is a no-go zone, especially for a PKK that promised not to make any more attacks on civilians and a PKK requesting an extension to the cease fire that would end Sunday night.

Even though Erdogan said that the attack was about the dams out east…that still doesn’t mean it actually is about dams out east. Not to mention that the dams in the northeast are the contentious ones, and I don’t think the PKK really would want to tangle into that fight.

And oh yeah, the official PKK spokesman literally said “We have no news of the event,” and generally seem as genuinely confused as everyone else. We have a suicide bomber, another possible suicide bomber/ess in custody, and a lot of blood. What’s going on?

In a basic way, and how I’ve described this to friends stateside, it’s just senseless violence. There is no overarching political scheme to this, at least at day one. Maybe the police will discover something, maybe someone will decide that there is more drama than this then we know now. But as of now, it’s violence. All we are doing – all of us – is trying to make sense of the senselessness. Fortunately, here is the one chance where I can actually make use of my degree in Terrorism Studies and see what we can find.

First of all, the PKK of today is not the PKK of the 1990’s. Abdullah Ocalan, for all of his successes as a guerrilla commander, was (and still is) a tremendous egotist. He believed that he was the organization, and there was no such thing as a second-in-command, no such thing as a contingency plan for after he was gone. Even when he was on the run in Kenya, he never planned to leave the struggle. As such, the organization splintered tremendously after his arrest. And although there is a head of the PKK now, Murat Karayilan does not have the same force Apo did. And because of ideological splintering, there are plenty under the PKK “flag” that have no allegiance to Karayilan. So its very possible that someone did this in the name of Kurdistan Azadi that the PKK leadership has no idea about. It just took me 300 words to say what Ms. Geerdink said in a tweet.

But here’s where we get to have fun with the Global Terrorism Database. While it can be a bit iffy on point-to-point details, it does a good job on studying long term trends. So shall we?

The PKK doesn’t suicide bomb. Out of 1186 incidents carried out by them or the spin-off TAK recorded, a whopping 11 were suicide attacks. Of those, 3 are only suspected as done by PKK (aka, there’s no proof and no claimant) and in reality, outside of the GTD’s coding, its more like…11. The only attack since 1999 is 2005, when this happened:

07/01/2005: Turkish police shot and killed a man after he attempted to blow himself up in the Justice Ministry building in Ankara, a city in Turkey’s Ankara Province. No group claimed responsibility for the failed attack, but authorities blamed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Although suicide bombings are scary, the truth is that they don’t work, especially not in popular struggles. The PKK is under a cease-fire they were trying to extend, and suicide bombings in populous areas only destroy public sympathy, which is really what the PKK is hoping for most now, to become a part of the political process. So no, it wasn’t the PKK.

Zaman has other ideas. Emre Uslu brings up three possible options: the aforementioned TAK, the Revolutionary Headquarters, and DHKP/C. We’ve already discounted TAK. Although they’ve attacked in the west far more than the PKK ever did, they don’t do suicide bombings and they wouldn’t go after Taksim.

DHKC (P/C means Party/Front, and the BOOM! side is obviously the “Front”) is a bit more likely. They used a suicide bomber in Taksim Square on September 10, 2001. The date meant that there was no chance it would be picked up internationally as news, but hey. It certainly was a big deal in Turkey. So it actually would make some sense, I suppose, if you can find any good reason though I suppose they certainly do) why a Marxist party was still around these days.

Devrimci Karargah (Revolutionary Headquarters)? Give me a break. They haven’t been active since the ’90s. I mentioned previously that:

DK is, or was, or was constructed to be, an ultra-leftist armed organization that rolled with the likes of Dev Sol, Dev Yol and (of course) the PKK.

They don’t even break it into the GTD to give you an idea of their tininess. It seems to be, if anything, more of a philosophical movement than anything violent. And do you know why I mentioned them before? Because Hanefi Avci was tied to them and arrested. He wrote a book about the sketchiness of the Gulen movement. And now the Gulen movement’s newspaper is trying to pin this group to this attack.

It’s pretty disgusting, really. They get their readership (and this is the English version, don’t forget) to get all “I SOLVED A CONSPIRACY!” when in fact Zaman is just making up clues. Uslu says that DK has claimed responsibility on attacks on AKP offices, but that’s more like “teenage kids wrote some graffiti on AKP offices and said they were big, bad, leftists.” Zaman is trying to prod readers into being clever instead of actually reporting news.

And this being Turkey, we cannot discount the chance that this was a false-flag attack. Here at Istanbul Alti we love our off-the-wall conspiracy theories, so let us posit that perhaps the government paid someone to do this attack so that they could say that their brand of ruling is coming under attack. I have nothing to basis this on, but hey, the rumor is out there already so may as well voice it. The CIA and al-Qaeda, of course, are other possible suspects. Because, well, why not?

If I had to bet? It’d bet on DHKC. They’re the only ones who have tried it before.

And something important to remember: suicide attacks are difficult. You’ll see lots of people make a big to-do over how “bomb-making materials can be found in everyday kitchen supplies” or “it only takes one person to do an attack” but neither of these are exactly true. It is very, very, difficult to make a working bomb out of said kitchen supplies. You need to do a lot of measuring and testing. Testing that can go wrong very easily. It’s one thing to be a martyr for a cause, its another to have a hand blown off or to be blinded. These are not the sort of things people do willy-nilly. And its rather hard to stuff a hundred kilograms of said kitchen supplies into a jacket for a suicide bomb. Suicide bombs need something far more explosive (read: expensive, difficult to find).

And it doesn’t just take one. To find the explosives takes a whole logistical chain, to arm the explosives takes another, and to physically get it on takes at least two. These things are incredibly difficult to organize and much harder to execute. This current attack, for example, seemed to go awry. The bomber forgot that there was daylight savings time, and apparently went to Taksim an hour early, before the square got truly busy.

So there are no good clues as to why or who yet. Those may come out in the next week or two, but they’re just as likely to be obfuscated in political drama. If it was a leftist group, then it’s really too bad because it’s another stab in the chest of true leftists, who are pretty much absent from the current political scene in Turkey. If it’s Kurdish-oriented, then, well, get ready for another round of sociopathic killings in the southeast.

And if its pinned on Revolutionary Headquarters without credible evidence given? Then watch out, because all logic and sense may have then been suspended.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    November 1, 2010 8:10 pm

    One reason groups have chosen suicide bombing as a tactic in the past (at least in Sri Lanka and Palestine) has been to separate themselves from other groups fighting for support from the same constituency. i.e. ‘We are doing the most for the cause and we are really even willing to blow ourselves up for it.’

    Has there been any more radical splinter groups that have emerged from the PKK or any other Kurdish groups recently?

  2. Asher permalink
    November 1, 2010 11:13 pm

    Warrents mentioning that al-Jazeera has a decent, if shorter, recap that kinda says a lot of the same thing as me:

    http://english.aljazeera.net//news/europe/2010/11/2010111152255237544.html

  3. November 2, 2010 12:18 am

    “… especially for a PKK that promised not to make any more attacks on civilians and a PKK requesting an end to the cease fire that would end Sunday night.”

    Mmmn. Edit time?

    • Asher permalink
      November 2, 2010 12:29 am

      durrr, “end” = “extension”, I swear I meant to write that the first time. Or maybe this is just another case of my magic prescience, who knows?

Trackbacks

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