A car loaded with homemade explosives and a bomb-laden motorcycle, as well as suicide vests and many bullets, were found in the parking area of a crowded shopping mall in Istanbul’s Bayrampasa district on Oct. 28, just one day before the national celebrations of Republic Day.
Four suspected Daesh militants were detained in connection with the incident.
According to the authorities, the car and motorcycle were linked to two consecutive explosions that took place on Oct. 27 in two buildings in Istanbul’s Arnavutkoy and Esenyurt districts, followed by fire.
As a result of countrywide operations over the weekend, some 143 Daesh-linked terrorists, many of them of foreign origin, were detained in various cities including the capital Ankara, and in the western province of Izmir, the northwestern province of Bursa and the eastern province of Erzurum.
Police confiscated many digital materials and unlicensed weapons during the raids. Experts point out that the security operations of Turkish police increase especially before the celebrations of important national days, showing how big the Daesh terror threat is in the country.
There are many questions left unanswered, according to Serhat Erkmen, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based 21st-Century Turkey Institute.
“We don’t know yet whether these newly captured Daesh terrorists are those who recently returned from Syria and Iraq, or whether they were those who have been nestled in Turkey for years,” he told Arab News, adding that the results of the police investigations will show the big picture in a much clearer way.
Erkmen also noted that it is also necessary to reveal why Daesh suspects caught in the shopping mall in Istanbul who were reportedly Turkish-origin Austrian citizens preferred to stage a failed terror attempt in Turkey rather than their country of origin.
“But fortunately Turkish police are getting increased expertise and capability in counter-terrorism efforts and are bringing down many cells, especially recently,” he added.
The latest report by the Soufan Center, a US-based think-tank, said out of 1,500 Turkish fighters who joined Daesh, about 900 have returned home — a new risk factor for domestic and regional security.
“With the increased loss of territory in Syria and Iraq, Daesh began implementing a new existential strategy by downsizing into a micro level in the countries to continue their existence, which is also the case in Turkey,” Abdullah Agar, a security expert and retired special warfare and commando officer, told Arab News.
“Nowadays Daesh transfers its activities toward other countries like Libya, Afghanistan, African countries or neighborhood Turkey. But the fact that Turkey carries its anti-Daesh efforts in a systematic way decreases this threat to a significant level,” he added.
“However, despite all efforts of Turkish police and intelligence, the threat is always present because it is a continuing struggle until the underlying conditions that fed this terrorism are eradicated completely.”
Agar also underlined that Daesh chooses symbolic days, dates, figures and locations to carry out its terror attacks.
“All Turkish nationals who return home after joining Daesh should be on trial if they have been involved in any terror act, while their families should absolutely be put under a rehabilitation program and be in strict monitoring,” he added.
Since Aug. 15, 2016, Turkish police in Istanbul have conducted 136 operations against Daesh and detained 968 suspects. At the risk-analysis centers set up by Turkish officials at airports and bus stations to catch foreign fighters, 940 Daesh suspects were reported in the same period.
During a press conference in Ankara on Oct. 30, Ozturk Yilmaz, the deputy group chair of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, urged the Turkish government to increase intelligence measures against terrorism, and claimed that various Daesh-linked radical group cells established in Turkey are planning further symbolic attacks.
“We believe the government should take strict, extensive and results-focused measures against these groups in order to end their existence,” he said, urging the government to implement a more “careful approach, especially concerning border security and security checks and visa services in airports.”