The arrest of DHKP-C members underscores the need for security co-operation, experts say.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 18/02/14
A Kurd from Turkey believed to belong to the far-left extremist Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) chants slogans as he is escorted by police at an Athens court on Friday (February 14th). [AFP]
The arrest in Athens of Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) leader Huseyin Fevzi Tekin and three other Turkish citizens in a February 10th raid highlighted the importance of regional counter-terrorism co-operation, experts said.
The operation, which initial reports said was sparked by an anonymous informant, was co-ordinated by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT), its Greek counterpart EYP, and international allies.
Ismail Akkol was arrested in connection to the 1996 assassination of Turkish businessman Ozdemir Sabanci. He was long wanted by Turkish authorities and was believed to have been living in Greece with a fake identity for seven years. Akkol is also accused of involvement in the smuggling of an anti-tank weapon into Turkey, which was seized in late July during a raid near the shores of Chios Island, off the coast of Turkey's Izmir province. Two Turkish and two Greek citizens were detained in the raid by Greek authorities.
The other suspects captured on February 10th were Murat Korkut, wanted in connection to a rocket attack on the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) Ankara headquarters in March 2013, and Bilgehan Karpat.
During the raid, police seized Kalashnikov rifles, hand grenades, pistols, and various explosives. Greek police are investigating claims that DHKP-C attacks in Turkey have been supplied with weaponry coming from Crete. Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Greece to extradite the suspects to Turkey.
The DHKP-C has attacked the Turkish and US armies as well as Turkish police officers, politicians and businesspeople since it was founded in 1994 following a split from the Revolutionary Left militant group. It claimed responsibility for the February 1st, 2013 bombing of the US Embassy in Ankara, which killed Turkish security guard Mustafa Akarsu and bomber Ecevit Sanli, and injured journalist Didem Tuncay. The group is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU, and the US.
According to Gozde Yasin, head of the Centre of Balkan and Cyprus Research at the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, the arrest of DHKP-C suspects shows that Ankara and Athens are in constant and increasing co-operation against terrorist groups. She added that Greek police and intelligence forces have improved efforts to eradicate the roots of terrorism in accordance with its EU obligations to secure its borders.
"It is also significant that a widespread intelligence operation was conducted last year in December before and during the visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Athens against the alleged murder attempt by a DHKP-C militant, according to the Greek press," Yasin told SETimes.
The side entrance of the US Embassy in Ankara surrounded by tape and metal sheeting after a suicide bomber blew himself up on February 1st, 2013 outside the facility. The Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) claimed responsibility for the bombing. [AFP]
"There are serious allegations that DHKP-C was using [Greece] as a base. Up to now, Greek courts have always been rejecting Turkey's requests to return the terrorism suspects in spite of the already-agreed procedures between the two countries against such crimes. So, Greece seems now to become more co-operative with Turkey on this issue," she added.
Yasin added that the recent improvement in Turkey-EU relations strengthens anti-terrorism co-operation.
"The recent signing of the readmission agreement between the EU and Turkey has also an impact over this latest operation, as the EU, and currently its rotating Greek presidency, feels more responsible for co-operating against terrorist networks originating from Turkish territories," Yasin said.
The issue of co-operation on counter-terrorism efforts between Turkey and Greece was among the agenda topics during a meeting between Davutoglu and his Greek counterpart Evangelos Venizelos last summer in Ankara.
Nihat Ali Ozcan, security expert at the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), said anti-terrorism co-operation has long been an important bilateral issue for Turkey and Greece.
"This latest operation showed that there is now strong intelligence co-operation between Turkey, the US and Greece, as the DHKP-C was involved in the past in attacks against US targets," Ozcan told SETimes.
The DHKP-C is also a threat to Greece, said Ioannis Michaletos, a terrorism specialist for the Athens-based Institute for Security and Defence Analysis.
"In terms of Greek national security, they represented an indirect threat since they seem to be allied to Greek terrorist groups. The arrest could spark retaliation against Greece, although DHKP-C operational capabilities have decreased considerably after the arrests of their leading figures over the past few years in Greece and elsewhere," he told SETimes.
"After successive crackdowns by the Turkish police, some of its members escaped that country and ended up in different directions -- including Greece as it seems," he added.
He said that Turkish and Greek authorities started to collaborate in 2012, ending up with arrests over the past few months in several locations across Greece.
"DHKP-C members found in Greece are also suspected of collaborating to some extent with similar Greek terrorist groups, as well as European ones," Michaletos said.
DHKP-C remains active, according to Michaletos.
"Moreover, a sizeable number of DHKP-C is suspected of having established new bases in Lebanon and others to have spread across the world and 'hiding' under assumed identities, waiting for the opportunity to go back in Turkey and stage more attacks," he said.
"They have an elaborate structure that cannot be infiltrated easily and follow thoroughly conspiracy rules. They are also in contact with various Middle Eastern networks for cover or for supplying themselves with arms."
Correspondent Andy Dabilis in Athens contributed to this report.
How do you think Turkey and Balkan countries can strengthen anti-terrorism co-operation? Share your thoughts in the comments area.