The Turkish government has announced it will step up border security following Monday’s suicide bombing in the town of Suruc, on the border with Syria.
In a statement, the prime minister’s office announced it had identified a suspect in the bombing and was looking into his national and international links. The attack killed 32 people, mainly youths, who were preparing to take part in relief efforts in the nearby Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.
The government described the attack as the first on Turkish soil by the Islamic State group and pledged to tighten the border with Syria.
The attack, which is being blamed on the Islamic State militant group, has put a spotlight on the ruling AK Party’s Syria policy.
Opposition parties are pointing to lax border controls and what they say is the government’s failure to take the Jihadist threat seriously.
Leading members of Turkey’s opposition parties strongly condemned the AK Party for both failing to secure the border and taking seriously the Islamic State threat. On Tuesday, a headline in a leading Turkish newspaper read, “You reap what you [sow].”
Semih Idiz, a political columnist for Cumhuriyet newspaper and Al Monitor website, said the bombing is putting the AK Party in a difficult position.
“It’s very damaging because the AKP is under this cloud of supposedly having relied on such groups to carry out its desires in Syria, which is of course the toppling of the Assad regime,” he said.
Crowds protested Monday and Tuesday in Istanbul, with police using water cannon and rubber bullets to break up demonstrators.
Concern over Turkey’s borders and the country’s attitude toward groups like the Islamic State is shared by many of Turkey’s Western allies, according to former ambassador Murat Bilhan.
“ISIL in Syria has been using as a motorway Turkish territory; that is a fact,” he said. “Turkey has not been very careful in the immediate past; but, Turkey has come to the fact that ISIL is also a threat to Turkish territory.”
Analysts say a recent crackdown by Turkish authorities on the Islamic State group, which resulted in dozens of arrests, may have been the motive behind the attack.
Columnist Idiz said in the wake of the bombing and national outrage, pressure for a greater crackdown on the militants will intensify. But he said this will have to be a “quantifiable change.” He said all leave for police and security officials has been cancelled.
“There is a nationwide state of alert at the moment. As Turkey moves more specifically to act together with its western allies, the threat to Turkey increases.”
Idiz said this comes amid the tourism season and the country’s own “home-bred and home-grown radical groups”
Local Turkish media reported that Turkish intelligence informed security forces that a team of Islamic State suicide bombers crossed into Turkey from Syria last month. Turkey is now bracing itself for the prospect of further attacks.
(Photo: Syrian refugee center on the Turkish border: Henry Ridgwell/VOANews)