US State Department criticises Turkish gov’t’s ‘broad definition of terrorism’

The US State Department has criticized Turkish government’s definition of terrorism, saying, “Turkey has a broad definition of terrorism that includes crimes against the constitutional order and internal and external security of the state, which the government regularly used to criminalize what the United States would consider the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and assembly.”

In its recently released “Country Reports on Terrorism 2017” the State Department also avoided defining the Gülen movement as a “terrorist organization” as is alleged by the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The State Department has preferred to describe US-based Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen as an “Islamic cleric.”

According to the report, Turkey continued its intensive efforts to defeat terrorist organizations both inside and outside its borders, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS).

The report also stated that terrorist attacks around the world had decreased by 23 percent, while the number of casualties caused by terrorist attacks fell by 27 percent.

The Turkey-related part of the report is as follow: 

“Turkey continued its intensive efforts to defeat terrorist organizations both inside and outside its borders, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and ISIS (ISIL), respectively. Turkey’s eight-month military operation, referred to as Operation Euphrates Shield, to clear ISIS from a 98-kilometer segment of the Turkey-Syria border concluded in March 2017. Turkey remained an active contributor in international counterterrorism fora, including the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF).

Turkey is a source and transit country for foreign terrorist fighters seeking to join ISIS and other terrorist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. Turkey is also an active member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and continued to provide access to its airspace and facilities for operations in Iraq and Syria. The United States and Turkey continued sharing comprehensive counterterrorism information. According to government authorities, as of October 23, Turkey’s “Banned from Entry List” included 53,781 individuals from 145 countries. Turkey deported 5,446 individuals from more than 100 countries for suspected terrorism ties.

The PKK continued to conduct terrorist attacks in Turkey. Turkey’s security forces conducted operations domestically along with airstrikes against PKK leadership positions in northern Iraq. The Ministry of National Defense claimed that, as of April, the government had killed, wounded, or captured more than 11,300 PKK terrorists since July 2015, when a two-year ceasefire between the government and the PKK ended. Turkish authorities reported more than 1,000 government security personnel have died in clashes with the PKK since the end of the ceasefire. Detentions and arrests of individuals suspected of aiding the PKK increased in 2017.

According to interior ministry data, law enforcement forces detained more than 15,000 suspects for allegedly aiding and abetting the PKK during the January 2 to October 30 timeframe. The PKK also targeted Turkish elements operating in northern Iraq. Turkish authorities in October announced that PKK elements in northern Iraq had kidnapped two Turkish National Intelligence Organization (Milli Istihbarat Teskilatı or MIT) officers.

As a counterterrorism partner of the United States, Turkey continued to receive U.S. assistance to address the terrorist threat posed by the PKK in 2017.

Turkey’s counterterrorism efforts were impacted in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt due to the government’s investigation into the movement of self-exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, which Turkey refers to as the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (“FETO”). This resulted in detentions, arrests, and dismissals of military, security, and civil servants from public office. Turkey designated “FETO” as a terrorist organization in May 2016 and later accused it of perpetrating the attempted coup. The state of emergency instituted by the Turkish government July 21, 2016, remained in effect at the end of 2017. As of November, the government had dismissed approximately 150,000 civil servants from public service for alleged “FETO” or terrorism-related links, often on the basis of scant evidence and minimal due process. Detentions of “FETO” suspects continued at year’s end, with 35,145 detained in the January 2 to October 30 timeframe, according to interior ministry data.

2017 Terrorist Incidents: Representative attacks included:

  • On January 1, an ISIS gunman killed more than 35 people, including 27 foreigners, and wounded 65 others, including a U.S. citizen, in a nightclub shooting in Istanbul. Police captured the attacker, Uzbek national Abdulkadir Masharipov, in Istanbul January 16.
  • On January 20, the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Front attacked the Istanbul police directorate and the Justice and Development party’s provincial office with rocket-propelled grenades. No casualties were reported.
  • On February 17, a PKK vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack near a housing complex for judges in Sanliurfa province killed two people and wounded 17 others.
  • On July 8, a PKK attack against a construction convoy in Hakkari province killed four people and wounded two others.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Turkey has a broad definition of terrorism that includes crimes against the constitutional order and internal and external security of the state, which the government regularly used to criminalize what the United States would consider the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and assembly. According to the Ministry of Interior, from April 24 to October 30, authorities suspended over 28,500 social media accounts and detained over 2,000 individuals affiliated with these accounts for alleged terrorist-related propaganda.

Turkey has advanced law enforcement capacity to combat terrorism, and efforts continue to streamline interagency information sharing. Detentions and arrests of suspected foreign terrorist fighters and Turkish nationals with links to ISIS increased in 2017. According to interior ministry data, from January 2 to October 30, authorities detained over 2,090 individuals for links to ISIS. In March, the justice ministry reported that more than 1,100 ISIS members were incarcerated and another 310 convicted. Turkey will sometimes deport suspected foreign terrorist fighters to countries without advance notice.

On March 29, Turkey’s National Security Council announced the completion of the eight-month Operation Euphrates Shield, which authorities say secured the Turkey-Syria border against threats emanating from the ISIS-controlled territory in Syria. On March 9, Turkish General Staff reported the operation neutralized 3,060 ISIS members.

On August 25, the Government of Turkey issued a decree pursuant to the state of emergency that placed the MİT under the Presidency. The MİT is one of several agencies involved in counterterrorism activities in Turkey. This decree increased the threshold for external oversight of MİT and its activities.

On October 6, authorities announced the completion of construction of a 911-kilometer modular wall along the entirety of the Turkey-Syria border. According to Turkish General Staff data, during the January to October timeframe, Turkish Land Forces apprehended more than 330,000 individuals, mostly irregular migrants, attempting to illegally cross Turkey’s borders.

On October 28, four individuals believed to be ISIS sympathizers were arrested in possession of firearms and explosives outside Istanbul’s Forum Shopping complex. One of the alleged ISIS individuals was wounded by police gunfire; no other casualties were reported.

The United States continued to provide bilateral and regional training programs in the areas of the border, aviation, and sea-based security and investigations, in partnership with Turkish law enforcement authorities and counterparts.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Turkey is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and its financial intelligence unit, the Financial Crimes Investigation Board, is a member of the Egmont Group. Turkey was subject to a review of its compliance with FATF’s recommendations related to the criminalization of terrorist financing as well as targeted financial sanctions. There have been no significant changes to the country’s counterterrorism financing regime since 2016. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): The Turkish National Police (TNP) undertake social projects, activities with parents, and in-service training for officers and teachers. Programs prepare medical, community, and religious officials to intervene to undermine terrorist messaging and to prevent recruitment. The Ministry of Justice implements rehabilitation and reintegration programs for convicts and former criminals.

Turkey’s Religious Affairs Presidency (Diyanet), tied to the Prime Ministry, also works to undermine terrorist messaging by promoting a moderate and inclusive version of Islam. All Sunni imam preachers in Turkey are employees of the Diyanet.

Turkey co-hosted the fourth annual International Countering Violent Extremism Research Conference in Antalya October 30-November 1. The Turkish city of Antalya is a member of the Strong Cities Network.

International and Regional Cooperation: Turkey is an active member of the United Nations (UN), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the Committee of Experts on Terrorism of the Council of Europe. Turkey is a founding member of the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law and provides expert support to assist training for judges and prosecutors handling terrorism cases. Turkey participates in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) expert meetings on the Prevention of Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism organized by the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the OSCE Secretariat.

Turkey has bilateral security cooperation agreements with more than 70 countries. The TNP contributes to counterterrorism capacity-building programs of partner countries and offers specialized international law enforcement training. During the 1997-2017 timeframe, TNP provided training to approximately 26,000 law enforcement officials from more than 60 countries. Turkey’s military has trained more than 30,000 foreign military personnel from more than 55 countries in a range of subjects, including counterterrorism operations.

In 2017, Turkey and the United States co-led the GCTF’s Soft Target Protection Initiative. The resulting good practices document, the Antalya Memorandum on the Protection of Soft Targets in a Counterterrorism Context, was endorsed at the Eighth GCTF Ministerial Meeting in September 2017. Turkey concluded its co-chair responsibilities (with the European Union) to the GCTF’s Horn of Africa Capacity Building working group in September 2017. In December, Turkey co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist ‎fighters.”

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