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Turkey is grappling with a series of massive deadly terrorist attacks that are not random or coincidental. The government’s wrong and illegal investment in and bad strategy regarding salafi-jihadist terrorist groups has created a backlash. Furthermore, the mass purging of security and intelligence forces created a weak and defenseless country. The latest nightclub terrorist attack in Istanbul is just another tragic example.

Mass shootings like those happening in the United States (US) mirror the attack in the Reina night club in Istanbul during the first hours of 2017. One can see similarities between the Orlando, Florida, attack in the US, where the terrorist opened fire inside a nightclub and killed 50 revelers in June 2016. The attack in Istanbul killed 39 people and hospitalized nearly 70 others at the club. Soon after the attack, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility.

Turkey is paying the cost of its alleged cooperation with salafi-jihadist terrorist groups operating in Syria. Two periods show that Turkey has been both a friend and a foe of these jihadist groups. In the first period, Turkey is considered to be a friend of these groups when the goal is to overthrow the brutal Bashar Assad regime. However, in the second period, Turkey’s equivocal Syrian politics ended the honeymoon with jihadist groups when the Turkish military plunged into Syria to clear ISIS militants from its border stronghold and halt the advancement of Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Turkey’s close friendship with Russia and Iran has resulted in the loss of territory for ISIS and Al-Nusra, particularly in Aleppo. This situation has sparked tensions between Turkey and jihadist groups. Last month, Al-Nusra militants attacked Turkish forces in Syria and killed 16 soldiers, and the Russian ambassador to Ankara was killed by an Al-Nusra-affiliated police officer.

Recent fatal terrorist attacks bring to mind some questions about why Turkey is exposed to massive terrorist attacks and how Turkish authorities fail to prevent these attacks despite intelligence shared by Western countries. Turkey is vulnerable for any kind of terrorist attack as a consequence of its tolerable politics against jihadist groups.

The government’s retaliatory attitude toward law enforcement and judiciary personnel after two graft scandals in December 2013 has created security vacuums filled by criminals and terrorist groups. The December 17 corruption investigation uncovered corrupt relations within the government in which an Iranian facilitator, Reza Zarrab, gave numerous bribes to three ministers in order to launder and circulate Iranian money as a way of breaking the embargo imposed by US. In s second graft scandal on December 25, the police uncovered corrupt linkages between high-level politicians and businessmen, including the son of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

These scandals became a turning point in Turkey. Rather than allowing the judiciary to continue with the prosecution of these individuals, the government covered up solid and strong evidence gathered during the investigations. Almost all of the investigators working in the organized crime, anti-terrorism, and intelligence units were suspended, forced out of their jobs, and even put in jail.

The government continues to purge more people after an attempted military coup on July 15, 2016. President Erdogan’s remark in the early hours of the coup that “this attempt is a gift from god” was the harbinger of new purges of tens of thousands of people from state institutions.

Massive purges have precipitated the loss of institutional memory, experience, and knowledge accumulated in the last decades. A comparison of crime statistics from 2013 and 2015, which represent the year before and the year after the purges, also proves the weaknesses in and the inability of the security forces to conduct professional investigations against criminals and gangs. For instance, the number of arrests in corruption investigations decreased by 87%, the number of oil smugglers by 75%, the number of arms smugglers by 29%, the number of arrests in mafia-type criminal investigations by 82%, and the amount of crime proceeds confiscated by 93% in 2015.

These vulnerabilities also reflect an increase in terrorism incidents. A series of deadly attacks that included car bombs left more than 750 people dead in 2016. The recent car bomb killed two people in January 5, 2017 in Izmir. Turkey woke up to mass shooting on the first day of 2017. Similar to the car bombings, Turkey also experienced a mass-shooting terrorist attack for the first time in its history.

Turkey’s allegedly illegal marriage with jihadist groups in Syria has given birth of uncontrolled consequences. The elimination of numerous experts and practitioners in the security and intelligence forces has led to a defenseless and vulnerable country. The Reina terrorist attack is just the result of Turkey’s bad experiences with jihadist groups operating in Syria and its unprecedented purging of crime and terrorism experts.



[1] Mahmut Cengiz is an Assoc. Prof. Research Scholar, Transnational Crime, Terrorism, and Corruption Centre, George Mason University

[2] Zakir Gul is an Assoc. Prof. Criminal Justice Department, State University of New York (SUNY) at Plattsburgh