Patterns of Global Terrorism 1999 - Turkey

Turkish authorities struck a significant blow against Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorism in mid-February when PKK Chairman Abdullah Ocalan was apprehended after he left his safehaven in the Greek Ambassador's residence in Nairobi, Kenya. The Turkish State Security Court tried Ocalan in Turkey in late June and sentenced him to death for treason, a decision the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld in a ruling issued on 25 November. The government took no further action on the sentence in 1999, although Turkish law requires that all death sentences be ratified by Parliament and endorsed by the President. Ocalan's lawyers requested the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) review the case. The ECHR asked Turkey to delay a decision on whether Ocalan should be executed until the Court completed its review.

Meanwhile, Ocalan launched a "peace offensive" in early August, requesting a dialogue with Ankara and calling on PKK militants to end the armed struggle against Turkey and withdraw from Turkish territory. The PKK's political wing quickly expressed support for the move, and press reports indicated that several hundred militants had left Turkey by October. In December, Turkish General Staff Chief Kivrikoglu said that 500 to 550 PKK militants remained in Turkey. Although the PKK exodus to neighboring Iran, Iraq, and Syria is an annual event, it usually starts later in the fall, suggesting that the withdrawal in 1999 was tied to Ocalan's announcement. In addition, two groups of about eight PKK members each turned themselves in to Turkish authorities in October and November as a gesture of goodwill and as a means of testing a new Turkish repentance law.

The leftwing Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) fell victim to numerous Turkish counter-terrorist operations in 1999. Turkish police killed two DHKP/C members in a shootout on 4 June as the terrorists prepared unsuccessfully to fire a light antitank weapon at the US Consulate in Istanbul from a nearby construction site. Authorities also arrested some 160 DHKP/C members and supporters in Turkey and confiscated numerous weapons, ammunition, bombs, and bombmaking materials over the course of the year, dealing a harsh blow to the organization.

Turkish authorities continued to arrest and try Islamist terrorists vigorously in 1999. Nonetheless, militants from the two major groups – Turkish Hizballah, a Kurdish group not affiliated with Lebanese Hizballah, and the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders-Front – managed to conduct low-level attacks.

Meanwhile, there were at least two attempted bombings against Russian interests in Turkey during 1999. On 10 December authorities discovered a bomb outside a building housing the offices of the Russian airline Aero-flot in Istanbul. The bomb weighed approximately 14 kilograms, was concealed in a suitcase, and was similar to a bomb found on the grounds of the Russian Consulate in Istanbul in mid-November. Turkish officials suspect that Chechen sympathizers were responsible.


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