8 years on, victims’ lawyers demand accountability for Ankara train station bombings

An injured woman is comforted following an explosion at the main train station in Turkey's capital Ankara, on October 10, 2015. At least 20 people were killed in the explosion which happened ahead of an anti-government peace rally organised by leftist groups later in the day, including the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). / AFP PHOTO / OZCAN YAMAN

On the eighth anniversary of the biggest terrorist attack in the history of the Turkish Republic, lawyers for the victims’ families are still demanding accountability for the lack of transparency in the case, the failure to arrest the main suspects, the ignoring of earlier leads and the withholding of evidence and intelligence reports from the court, Turkish Minute reported.

The bombings that took place on Oct. 10, 2015 at the Ankara train station were the deadliest Turkey has ever experienced. The two blasts took place near the city’s central terminal as people from mainly leftist and pro-Kurdish groups gathered to stage a demonstration demanding peace and an end to the ongoing conflict between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish government. Two explosions went off as people were congregating in the square, killing 103 and injuring more than 500.

The last hearing in the trial of defendants accused of perpetrating the attack took place on Aug. 3, 2018, with the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court handing down prison sentences to 18 people ranging from seven years to aggravated life. The trial of the 16 people who are at large continues in absentia.

The lawyers representing the victims’ families released a detailed statement on X on Tuesday, highlighting eight key questions that remain unanswered. They question why the authorities immediately restricted information about the investigation into the attack, preventing the public from learning more about the case. According to the lawyers, this lack of transparency has led to a failure to collect evidence properly and investigate the perpetrators thoroughly.

The lawyers also express concern over the failure to capture key suspects alive. For instance, Yunus Durmaz, one of the main organizers of the attack, allegedly killed himself during a police raid, preventing any further investigation into his connections. Another suspect, M. Kadir Cebael, was also reported to have died in a similar manner, although an autopsy revealed he was killed by a close-range gunshot.

The statement further criticizes the withholding of certain sections of a report by the Interior Ministry’s inspectors. This report had recommended investigations into some Ankara police chiefs for ignoring prior intelligence. Despite this, no action has been taken against these officials.

A report drafted by the Interior Ministry had revealed on Feb. 25, 2016 that some public officials bore some responsibility for the incident. According to the report, which was leaked to the media, intelligence that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) might stage an attack on gatherings by leftist and Kurdish groups in Ankara and other cities had been conveyed to the police. Moreover, the names of the train station bombers had also been mentioned several times in these intelligence notices.

This information, however, had not been taken into consideration by law enforcement since the Ankara Governor’s Office had not given permission for an investigation into the public officials, among them several senior staff from the Ankara Police Department. The Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office did not object to the governor’s decision, and the case was closed before it could turn into an indictment. Thus, the parties who failed to heed the intelligence warning have not been brought to justice despite demands from the victims’ lawyers.

Moreover, the lawyers point out that the suspects had been identified 10 days before the attack when they were buying bomb-making materials. Despite this tipoff, no action was taken to apprehend them. This information was later concealed by the Ankara police and the prosecutor’s office.

The lawyers also question why some digital evidence and intelligence reports related to the suspects have not been fully submitted to the court. They argue that this has hindered the case and kept crucial information hidden.

According to a recent report by the T24 news website Ahmet Güneş, one of the defendants in the case, was arrested and released a year before the attack despite being seen in an ISIL execution video. This evidence was only introduced into the trial seven years after the bombings, and Güneş remains at large.

Another issue raised is the failure to identify some of the perpetrators, despite evidence suggesting they were under surveillance. The lawyers question why some of these individuals have not even been charged. In particular the lawyers raise concerns about the failure of law enforcement to conduct thorough investigations into 32 ISIL members who were observed entering and exiting secret cell houses and depots in the southeastern province of Gaziantep. No legal action has been taken against them to date, the lawyers say.

Additionally, the real identity of an ISIL commander known by the code name Ebu Zeyneb, who is believed to have ordered the massacre, remains undetermined, and no case has been filed against him.

Lastly, the lawyers call out politicians who claim to have undisclosed information about the attacks but have failed to come forward.

The Ankara bombings took place in the period between June and November 2015, historically the most critical timeframe of the Turkish Republic that saw a series of terrorist attacks.

Some of the previous remarks of Ahmet Davutoğlu, a former Turkish prime minister who parted ways with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and established the Future Party (GP) a few years ago, were interpreted as suggesting that some ruling party politicians had prior knowledge of the attacks or deliberately failed to prevent them so that an environment of chaos would take hold in the country, the public would be frightened and the AKP, which had lost its majority in a general election in June of that year, would be returned to power.

According to observers, that summer diverted public concern from the economy and authoritarian rule to national security, ultimately increasing public support for the AKP in November.

The pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP), the third largest opposition party in Turkey, also made a statement on the anniversary of the attack emphasizing that not a single public official has been tried and that the case is being deliberately left in the dark by the authorities.

The YSP also pointed out the authorities’ reaction to the bombing, accusing them of gross negligence. The YSP reminded that despite the presence of multiple hospitals in the vicinity, emergency services failed to respond promptly, and police even used tear gas on those who could have been saved with immediate first aid.

The party also points out that victims and those in solidarity with them have been targeted, citing instances of surveillance, arrests and public-sector layoffs.

The YSP reaffirmed its commitment to the struggle for democracy in the country, vowing never to abandon the cause.

As the next hearing in the trial of those at large is scheduled for Nov. 30, the lawyers, along with the victims’ families, vow to keep pushing for accountability and transparency to ensure that the tragedy that unfolded eight years ago will not be forgotten or swept under the rug.

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