21 November 2003

Istanbul: The enemy within

The IBDA-C was established in 1975 by a breakaway faction of the youth group of the then Islamic Salvation Party headed by former Turkish prime minister Necmettin Erbakan. It is a strong critic of secularism and Mustafa Kemal Pasha, and advocates the restoration of the Ottoman Empire just as the LET advocates the restoration of the Moghul rule in India.

The IBDA-C's anger over the perceived British role in the break-up of the Ottoman Empire could explain its motive for attacking British personnel and interests, if it is established that it also had a role in Thursday's blasts. Were the blasts timed, at the instance of al-Qaeda, to coincide with President George W Bush's high-profile UK visit to embarrass him and Prime Minister Tony Blair? Difficult to answer. In the past, the IBDA-C had attacked members of the Greek Orthodox community, secular journalists etc, but had not shown till now an inclination to take to suicide terrorism. However, in February 2000, it claimed responsibility for a quadruple bomb attack in Istanbul, not involving suicide bombers.

Sections of the Turkish media have contradicted reports of the involvement of the IBDA-C. They have quoted police sources as saying that the suspects were really members of a little-known group called Beyyiat el-Imam, meaning 'allegiance to the Imam', which, it is claimed, was formed in the al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and is reportedly led by a Saudi cleric identified as Abu Musab. He is believed to have taken shelter in Iran after the Taliban were driven out of Afghanistan.

According to the media, Ekinci had flirted with a hotch-potch of Islamic groups, including Hezbollah, a violent Turkish Sunni group unrelated to the Shi'ite Lebanese group of the same name. He had travelled to Iran, received jihadi and explosive training in Pakistan between 1997-99, and fought in Chechnya.

The fact that neither the Turks nor the British nor the Americans had the least inkling of the goings-on in the world of jihadi terrorism in Turkey and of the preparations for the terrorist strikes in Istanbul speak disturbingly of the inability of their intelligence agencies to penetrate the IIF either electronically or through human sources. While some electronic penetration has definitely been achieved in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Southeast Asia, resulting in some successes, there are other areas such as Iraq and Turkey where they seem to be groping in the dark, as the Mumbai police are doing in India.

Ownership of the War on Terror is interesting. Raman cites 20 000 victims in India. All killed by al-Qa'ida allies rather than al-Qa'ida itself. One way to read the war is that it's about building ever-higher barriers between Us and Them. Raman's numbers do not add up to the status of supreme victim for the US, but if you say that, or argue that the focus on Iraq or al-Qa'ida is wrong, you start encountering arguments about resolve.

Thus far, mere resolve, whether it masquerades as moral clarity or not having a reverse gear, is not doing all that well. The people of Istanbul, like the people of Mumbai, are probably about as attached to the flypaper theories as the coalition forces in Iraq itself.

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