By Arab News
By Menekse Tokyay
Turkey is facing the spectre of a growing terror threat after the US Embassy in Ankara suspended its visa services on Friday and issued a security alert to foreign citizens in the country.
The US mission cited “credible reports” of potential attacks and kidnappings of foreign nationals, and urged US citizens to “exercise heightened caution” in public places, including offices and shopping malls.
Staff at US missions in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir and Adana were told to stay alert and keep a low profile, while foreigners were advised to avoid crowds.
“The US mission in Turkey has received credible reports of potential terrorist attacks and kidnappings against US citizens and foreign nationals in Istanbul, including against the US Consulate General, as well as potentially other locations in Turkey,” the embassy said.
Arab News has asked the US Embassy in Ankara for additional details on the security threat.
The terror threat comes as the US focuses on the forthcoming presidential elections and Turkey begins its withdrawal from some key observation points in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province.
Syrians linked to Daesh were recently released from Al-Hol camp in Syria, posing another security threat because of the porous border between the two countries.
Experts believe the latest terror threat is probably linked to Daesh.
“Foreign missions in Turkey sometimes coordinate with Turkish officials by releasing similar statements about the terror threats they perceive,” Mete Sohtaoglu, a security analyst, told Arab News.
“These tactics are designed to detect terror groups because the alerts can activate dormant cells preparing an attack,” he added.
Security at US missions in Turkey has been tightened recently with many Americans visiting the consulate and embassy buildings to post their ballots.
Erol Bural, a former military officer and head of Ankara-based Countering Terrorism and Radicalization Research Center, said the threat to the US diplomatic missions in Turkey is likely to come from the extreme left-wing Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C) or Daesh.
The DHKP-C has been operating in Turkey for decades and has carried out several lethal bomb attacks — one against the US Embassy in Ankara in 2013 that killed a Turkish security guard.
In the past, coordination between US and Turkish security officials has led to several DHKP-C cells being uncovered.
“Terror alerts are an integral part of counter-terrorism efforts in Turkey,” Bural said.
“The timing of this alert raises questions about why the terror threat is increasing when Turkey has increased its counter-terrorism efforts against Daesh cells around the country.”
In Turkey’s deadliest terror attack, twin suicide bombings carried out by Daesh at a rally in Ankara in October, 2015 claimed 103 lives and injured more than 400 people.
Police recently arrested dozens of people in Istanbul over their links to the DHKP-C, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and EU.