Seven Turkish soldiers were killed and a tank lost in Ankara’s ongoing military campaign against Kurdish militias in Syria’s northwestern Afrin region. The casualties marked the deadliest day for Turkey since the offensive began.
Five servicemen died in fighting near the settlement of Sheikh Haruz located north-east of Afrin, the Anadolu news agency reported, citing a statement issued by Turkey’s General Staff. The soldiers were killed as a Turkish tank came under attack, it said.
Earlier, the General Staff also reported about the death of two other Turkish soldiers. One was killed in clashes with local armed groups on Syrian territory, while another lost his life during an attack by what Ankara described as “terrorist groups” in Turkey’s Kilis province.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim vowed retaliatory strikes. “They will pay for this twice as much. We have given the necessary response instantly, and we continue to do so,” he said, apparently referring to the Kurdish militias, Anadolu reports. Following the attack on the tank near Sheikh Haruz, Turkey launched airstrikes targeting shelters, hideouts and ammunition depots of local armed groups.
On Saturday, the Turkish General Staff said 899 fighters of the Syrian Kurdish militias – People’s Protection Units (YPG), Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants and Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) terrorists – were “neutralized” since the launch of Operation Olive Branch. It added that 13 Turkish soldiers were killed and 57 wounded since the start of the operation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s troops are closing in on Afrin’s city center as Operation Olive Branch entered its third week. “We are close,” he said Saturday at his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) congress in the eastern Turkish province of Bitlis.
Ankara is targeting the YPG, a Kurdish-led militia it considers a wing of the armed and banned PKK. The YPG controls several enclaves in northern Syria, including Afrin. It secured the territories from Islamist rebels and other extremist groups over the course of the Syrian conflict with crucial backing from the US-led coalition.
Ankara launched air strikes against Kurdish positions late in January, with its troops advancing into the Kurd-held territories. A number of Turkish towns and villages along the Syrian border have meanwhile been hit by rocket strikes.
Turkey claims it seeks to secure its borders by pushing back what it calls “terrorist groups.” The Syrian government, though, has condemned the Turkish operation and considers the incursion a violation of Syrian sovereignty.
An estimated 5,000 civilians were displaced during the first days of the military campaign, according to the UN. UNICEF said at least 23 children have been killed as a result of fighting in the Syrian provinces of Afrin, Idlib, Saraqab, Khan Shaykhoun and the capital Damascus. Local Kurdish sources maintain that 141 civilians were killed, Syria’s state news agency SANA reported.
Three months after the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market, domestic intelligence officials say they can’t rule out further attacks. They add that there are other reasons to be concerned about security in Germany.
It happened just a few days before Christmas. The very thing German security officials, supported in part by foreign intelligence services, had long been able to prevent: a terrorist attack, claiming many lives. Jihadist Anis Amri killed 12 people on December 19 when he drove a stolen truck into the crowds at a Christmas market in Berlin. Now, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Gemany’s domestic security agency, has warned that it could happen again. “We continue to have a high threat level in Germany,” said BfV President Hans-Georg Maassen.
Speaking to journalists, he said that an important indicator was the high number of leads that his office continues to receive both nationally and from foreign sources. “We are seeing a qualitative change in the type of information we’re getting,” Maassen said. Every single tip is investigated thoroughly. During the period after the Berlin attack until the start of this year, 20 so-called unspecific threat indicators were examined. In the best-case scenario, security officials are able to discover plans for attacks and prevent them from happening.
Berlin: Mourning the victims
Terror hotlines ringing
The BfV also considers information leading to raids on apartments or arrests by police officers to be a measure of success. In this regard, the hotline on Islamist terrorism, or HiT, is becoming ever more significant. The number of contacts via the hotline in 2016 (1,100) more than doubled compared to the number recorded in 2015. But, as Maassen said, there has also been growth in the number of potentially violent Islamists, with the figure currently standing at almost 1,600. There is no doubt, he said, that Germany is increasingly becoming a focal point for the terrorist militia Islamic State, or IS.
Maassen also said that he is concerned about developments in Turkey. “For a long time now, we’ve observed that the conflicts playing out in Turkey also affect the security situation in Germany,” he said, adding there is a danger that proxy conflicts could escalate between members of the Kurdish PKK and nationalistic or right-wing Turkish extremists. The PKK is officially classed as a terrorist group by Germany and the EU.
TURKEY: THE FAILED COUP AND ITS AFTERMATH
Bloodshed by the Bosphorus
A blood covered resident of Istanbul stands near the Bosphorus Bridge. There were clashes between civilians and the army after the military had blocked the bridge. Government sources say that more than 260 people were killed in fighting during the coup attempt.
Report: Multiple prosecutions against Berlin attacker Amri, no intervention
Berlin truck terrorist Anis Amri was the focus of eight prosecution teams in three German states before he murdered 12 people last December, says a Cologne newspaper. It cites findings by Germany’s justice minister. (14.02.2017)
Gulen versus Erdogan battle spills over into Germany
Germany’s Turkish population is split after the coup attempt. No love is lost between followers of Fethullah Gulen and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Leaders of associations connected to the two men are playing down the issue. (20.07.2016)
Merkel calls for calm over ‘Nazi’ accusations amid strained German-Turkish relations
After rejecting the Turkish president’s remarks, Berlin has urged both countries to “keep cool heads.” Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused German authorities of “Nazi practices” after several cities canceled referendum rallies. (06.03.2017)
Turkish minister Nihat Zeybekci offers conciliatory tone in Cologne speech
Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci has spoken in the western German city of Cologne. He offered a more conciliatory tone than President Erdogan’s earlier in the day but the spat between Berlin and Ankara goes on. (06.03.2017)
IS ‘headhunting’ minors online, warns domestic intelligence chief
The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency says that Islamists are increasingly recruiting adolescents using social media. It’s one of many internal security threats the country currently faces. (19.01.2017)
German police raids target Islamists suspected of planning terror attack
Police have raided a dozen locations and detained two men in an operation against the radical Islamist scene. They mobilized after indications of a planned attack solidified over the past two days. (09.02.2017)
Special Edition: Attack on Berlin
Berlin is in shock and mourning. Germany’s capital is the scene of a probable terrorist attack. At least 12 people died and dozens were injured. This week, Focus on Europe has a special edition on that. (21.12.2016)
Istanbul (CNN)Turkish authorities arrested two foreign nationals at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport Tuesday in connection with the nightclub terror attack early New Year’s Day that left 39 people dead, state-run Anadolu reported.
There were no details available on their nationalities. A total of 16 people have been arrested in connection with the investigation so far, and Turkish authorities are still on the hunt for the gunman who carried out the attack at the Reina nightclub. Dozens more were wounded.
Police released this image from a selfie video shot by the terror attack suspect.
Suspect seen in selfie video
Monday, police released a video that the suspect apparently took of himself in a market near the nightclub. Neither his name nor his nationality have been released.
Laith Alkhouri, a director at Flashpoint, an American business risk intelligence company tracking terrorist and cyber threats, told CNN the “selfie video” featuring the alleged nightclub attacker in Taksim square was first posted on a pro-ISIS Telegram account before being broadcast by Turkish media.
He said that suggests the attacker was part of a network supportive of or linked to ISIS, and that he had shared the selfie footage with them before or after the attack.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted to Twitter, but the claim cannot be independently verified by CNN. It boasted about the first major terrorist attack of 2017.
“In continuation of the blessed operations which ISIS carries out against Turkey, a soldier of the brave caliphate attacked one of the most popular nightclubs while Christians were celebrating their holiday,” the statement read.
‘I prayed that it will end soon’
New details emerged about the gunman in Turkish media Tuesday. Police told Haberturk newspaper the attacker took a taxi from Zeytinburnu, a neighborhood near the Istanbul airport, to a district near the club. Haberturk reported the attacker put his backpack in the trunk of the taxi.
Turkish news agency IHA reported that according to the taxi driver, the attacker got out of the vehicle in Ortakoy, about four minutes away from the nightclub.
Surveillance video of the gunman showed him first shooting a security guard and police officer at the entrance of the nightclub.
Then, according to an interview with the club’s DJ in the Turkish daily Hurriyet, the gunman stood near the DJ booth and started shooting. He changed magazines in the weapon several times and fired more than 100 bullets, Hurriyet said.
“I prayed that it will end soon, then it ended,” the DJ told Hurriyet. “He possibly changed his clothes. We heard police 5-10 minutes later.”
Photos:Attack at Istanbul nightclub
This still photo, taken from surveillance footage and released on Monday, January 2, is believed to show the gunman responsible for carrying out a New Year’s Day attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul. The popular nightclub was attacked shortly after midnight on Sunday, January 1. At least 39 people were killed and 69 were wounded, Turkey’s Interior Minister said. Authorities are still searching for the attacker.
PKK denies involvement
The militant Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, distanced itself from the attack on Monday.
“No Kurdish forces have anything to do with this attack,” the PKK said. “The Kurdish freedom fight is also the fight for democratization of Turkey. That’s why we won’t target innocent and civilian people.”
Those killed in the attack were from 14 countries, including India, Morocco, Jordan, Canada, Russia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
CNN’s Holly Yan, Schams Elwazer, Karen Smith, Sara Sirgany, Steve Almasy, Gul Tuysuz, Nadeem Muaddi, Laura Koran, Joel Williams, Steve Brusk, Mayra Cuevas, Paul Cruickshank and Darran Simon contributed to this report.
Since the coup attempt, a total of about 110,000 people, mainly state employees, have been sacked or suspended and 37,000 arrested.
Both the Cumhuriyet journalists and HDP politicians will be held in jail until trial. No date has been set for either hearing.
Cumhuriyet was one of four winners of the “alternative Nobel Prize” in October, alongside Syria’s White Helmets and others., awarded for “fearless investigative journalism and commitment to freedom of expression in the face of oppression, censorship, imprisonment and death threats.”
Friday’s arrests coincided with a bomb blast in the Kurdish-dominated city of Diyarbakir in the south-east which killed 11 people and injured dozens more.
Confusion remained on Saturday as to who carried out the attack.
The governor’s office in Diyarbakir said that the Kurdish militant PKK, which has conducted a campaign of violence for Kurdish autonomy, was behind the blast. It based this on what it said were intercepted communications.
But on Friday, so-called Islamic State (IS) said, via its Amaq news agency, that it was behind the attack.
President Erdogan currently holds emergency powers in the aftermath of the failed July coup.
They allow the president and his cabinet to bypass parliament when drafting new laws and to restrict or suspend rights and freedoms.
Critics claim he is using those powers to silence opponents. At the beginning of November, 15 media outlets were closed and 10,000 civil servants were dismissed.
Ankara has dismissed thousands of Kurdish teachers for alleged links to the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also announced a massive operation to cull the militants.
Some 11,500 teachers were suspected of activities “in support of the separatist terrorist organization and its affiliates,” the state-run Anadolu Agency news service reported Thursday. Turkey has around 850,000 educators.
“The individuals in question are temporarily suspended – placed on leave – pending formal investigation,” an official told AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.
On a visit to the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir on Sunday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had announced that around 14,000 teachers would be suspended for having ties with the PKK.
Turkish officials also took over two southeastern councils run by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP). These included the Sur and the Silvan districts, both in Diyarbakir province.
However, the local governor of the area denied the takeover, according to the Anadolu Agency and the private news agency Dogan.
“Reports of the taking over of two mayor’s offices in Diyarbakir do not reflect the truth. There has not been such an appointment at this stage. If there is an appointment, a statement will be made,” the official said in a statement.
Erdogan has dubbed DBP an extension of the PKK. The party is the regional partner of the national Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Erdogan has pledged to free the country of the PKK
The PKK has been waging a war against Ankara since 1984, when it took up arms to fight for an independent Kurdish state in Turkey’s southeast. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Ankara has listed the organization as a terror group, with Erdogan announcing the largest operation in the country’s history to finish the militants.
On Thursday, he said the removal of civil servants with links to the terror group was a key element in purging the terrorists. He also said Turkey would continue its offensive in northern Syria, where Kurdish militants have gained a stronghold, having fended off rebel forces and the “Islamic State.”
“We have run and are currently running the largest operations against the PKK terrorist organisation in ist history, both within and across our borders,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan’s latest move comes shortly after nearly 40,000 academics, businessmen, journalists and teachers were arrested in Turkey for alleged links with Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric suspected of masterminding the failed coup in July.
mg/sms (AFP, Reuters)
Turkey foreign minister promises fair trials for coup conspirators
Police in Turkey have arrested more than 100 more suspects for their alleged roles in the July 15 putsch attempt. Ankara says it will cooperate with the Council of Europe to ensure just trials for thousands of suspects. (07.09.2016)
Turkey signals Incirlik Air Base access, if Germany “behaves” well
Access demanded by German parliamentarians to the Incirlik NATO airbase could be restored, says Turkey’s foreign minister. Mevlüt Cavusoglu has warned through that any approval will depend on how Berlin “behaves.” (07.09.2016)
Erdogan vows to “destroy terrorists” as forces step up offensive against IS and Syrian Kurds
After months of deadly attacks across the country, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to “destroy terrorists.” In Syria, Turkish forces have ramped up their offensive against IS and Kurdish-led forces. (29.08.2016)
Tens of people have been killed in continuing Turkish strikes on Kurdish-held areas in Syria near the border city of Jarablus.
A monitoring group said at least 35 civilians and four militants had been killed in the Turkish attacks.
The Turkish military said 25 people, all Kurdish militants, had been killed.
The strikes came on the fifth day of Turkey’s military operation to target so-called Islamic State (IS) militants and Kurdish militia inside Syria.
Speaking in Gaziantep, where IS militants killed 54 people at a Kurdish wedding last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “operations against terrorist organisations will continue until the end”.
Turkish tanks and troops backed by Syrian rebels have captured territory from IS and clashed with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia supported by the United States, which is itself fighting IS.
Analysis: Guney Yildiz, BBC News
Turkey’s coming into conflict with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) or their Arab allies could further complicate its military campaign.
Ankara wants to force the Kurds to withdraw to the east of Euphrates River, stopping short of establishing a corridor to link two Kurdish-led areas in north-western Syria.
Turkey enjoys tacit support from Russia, the Assad government and Iran in acting to prevent further territorial gains by the Kurds and their allies. The US, on the other side, has said it will try to prevent Turkey coming into conflict with its allies in the region.
A possible Turkish campaign against the Kurds in Syria could also risk igniting further clashes with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) militants inside Turkey. The PKK recently upped its attacks significantly in correlation with the Turkish operation inside Syria.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 20 people died in strikes on Jeb el-Kussa and another 15 were killed in a separate bombardment near al-Amarneh.
Four local fighters were also killed, the Observatory reported.
Turkey’s military said in a statement that it had killed 25 members of the PYD, an offshoot of the PKK.
Jeb el-Kussa is located 14km (9 miles) south of Jarablus and is controlled by local fighters with support from Kurdish forces.
On Saturday Turkey’s military suffered its first fatality of the offensive, when a soldier died in a tank hit by a rocket. Turkish authorities blamed Kurdish militia for the death.
Turkey has been targeting Kurdish-controlled villages around Jarablus, which Turkish-led forces captured from IS on the first day of the offensive.
It fears Kurdish fighters gaining an unbroken strip of territory along its border, which would be a huge boost to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a banned Kurdish rebel group fighting for autonomy in Turkey.
Turkey’s operations further complicate the already protracted Syrian civil war. Both Turkey and Kurdish rebels are US allies.
The US has backed Turkey’s anti-IS operations in Syria, and both countries have demanded that Kurdish forces withdraw to the east bank of the Euphrates river.