US Consulate targeted as Turkey, amid policy shifts, is hit by two attacks

One of two shooters who fired on US Consulate in Istanbul is in custody, and far-left groups claims responsibility. Ten hurt in car-bomb attack at police station.

Huseyin Aldemir/REUTERS
Workers cover a police station damaged after an attack in Istanbul, Turkey, August 10, 2015. Overnight, a vehicle laden with explosives was used in the attack on the police station in the Istanbul district of Sultanbeyli at around 01:00 on Monday (2200 GMT on Sunday), injuring three police officers and seven civilians, police said.

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Violence shook Turkey Sunday night and Monday, with two shooters opening fire outside the US consulate in Istanbul Monday morning and a separate car bombing at a police station overnight. The attacks come just weeks after Turkey began cracking down on Kurdish militants and it follows Ankara’s agreement to cooperate more closely with the US to fight the self-described Islamic State. 

Police carrying automatic rifles blocked off streets around the US consulate today following the attack. One resident who witnessed the attack told Reuters that one of the assailants fired four or five rounds, targeting security officials and consulate employees.

No Turkish or US officials were wounded in the shootout, and local reports stated that one of the two suspected assailants was caught at a home in the Sariyer district of Istanbul after fleeing the scene. The injured woman is believed to be a part of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a group that’s banned in Turkey, The New York Times reports.

A statement on the group's website claimed responsibility for the consulate attack, Reuters reported, and described the United States as an "enemy of the peoples of the Middle East." The consulate attack came hours after a separate car bombing outside a police station in Istanbul in which an estimated seven civilians and three police officers were injured. It’s unclear if the two events are linked.

There’s a history of US diplomatic missions and Turkish police stations being targeted by far-left groups, reports Reuters. A suicide bombing outside the US Embassy in Ankara in 2013 – claimed by DHKP-C – killed a Turkish security guard.

Violence in Turkey has been on the rise in recent weeks, following Ankara’s decision to launch a “synchronized war on terror” last month, which includes joining US air strikes against the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria, but also targeting Kurdish militants in northern Iraq and suspected militants via raids and arrests inside of Turkey, Reuters reports.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, Turkey's decision last month to get involved in the US-led fight against the Islamic State "not only marked a policy shift but carries unique risks given its porous borders with Iraq and Syria."

For IS, which this month [July] dramatically changed its rhetoric regarding Turkey to make thinly veiled threats, the conflict imperils a vital conduit for its foreign fighters and a fertile recruiting ground in the region.

“Now that it is pretty obvious that Turkey joined the United States to target IS, I think it is very likely that IS will retaliate,” says Soner Cagaptay, Turkish Research program director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP).  “It has a pretty sophisticated network of recruits, safe havens, and smuggling routes, and it will use those routes to strike back at Turkey. These guys know Turkey in and out.”

But the escalating conflict is also highlighting a common Turkish concern that the country’s security is threatened less by IS jihadists than by militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which it considers a terrorist group. Among the hundreds of alleged terrorists rounded up in recent days, a majority are thought to be PKK sympathizers.

Tensions are “running high” between Ankara and Turkey’s Kurdish minority, with the government launching attacks on the banned PKK, reports The Los Angeles Times. And at the same time, the PKK has targeted Turkish infrastructure and police. 

An informal, 2-year-old cease-fire between the government and the PKK has broken down, bringing fears that Turkey, NATO’s eastern bulwark, could descend into a new spiral of violence.

More than 30,000 people were killed during the three-decade war between the government and the PKK, which says it seeks greater self-determination for Turkey's long-repressed Kurdish minority. Both Turkey and the United States brand the PKK a terrorist group.

On Sunday, marchers at a demonstration in Istanbul called for an end to the escalating violence.

Turkey’s timing in cracking down on both IS and the PKK has led to the jump in instability, reports The New York Times.

One day before the consulate attack, the US announced that it sent six fighter jets to Turkey’s southern Incirlik air base in an effort to reinforce air campaigns against IS. Turkey shares a more than 500-mile border with Syria, where IS is operating. 

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