Turkish troops deployed for terror threat, not a coup, amid urgent alerts from Turkish intelligence

A total of 109 people were killed while over 500 people were injured in a twin bombing attack in front of Ankara’s main train station on Oct. 10, 2015.

Abdullah Bozkurt

 

Alerted by Turkish intelligence agency MIT about imminent terrorist attacks on military targets in June and early July 2016, most soldiers who were involved in a failed coup on July 15 of the same year were led to believe that they were actually responding to terror threats, not joining a putschist attempt.

Nordic Monitor obtained a number of classified intelligence documents that were filed by MIT and shared with the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) in the weeks and days preceding the coup attempt, prompting the TSK to beef up security in and around military installations, critical infrastructure and other high-value targets in Istanbul and Ankara. The military leadership ordered units to develop contingencies for responding to any such attack in the event the intelligence provided by MIT proved accurate.

During the trials of alleged putschists, many officers including senior commanders defended themselves by saying that they genuinely thought they were responding to terrorist threats and possible attacks when they mobilized troops to secure perimeters at the General Staff, the Land Forces Command and many other strategic bases and installations. They also recalled how MIT, run by Hakan Fidan, a confidante of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, kept sending alarming intelligence notes to military headquarters, which shared them with other divisions on an urgent basis. Fidan did not appear in court to testify as a witness despite motions filed by defense lawyers that asked the court to hear the intelligence chief’s testimony and allow them to cross-examine him.

The intelligence messages published before July 15 clearly reveal the environment in which the Turkish military was operating. With these alerts sent to each military unit across the country, it was understood that a terrorist attack could happen at any moment. The anxiety about a possible attack was further reinforced by a series of deadly terror attacks that had already taken place in the heart of the Turkish capital in 2015 and early 2016, rattling the security establishment including the military.

 

July 13, 2016 secret message on possible terrorist attacks:

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The first attack, blamed on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), took place on October 10, 2015 near the Ankara train station and killed 109 people. The second attack, attributed to the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was launched on military busses in area of the General Staff and Land Forces Command headquarters in Ankara on February 17, 2016, killing 29 including many military personnel. The third attack on Ankara’s Güvenpark on March 13, 2016 was claimed by the PKK and led to the death of 37 people.

In addition to this, there were many other incidents across Turkey. An ISIS suicide attack resulted in the death of 34 people in Suruç on July 20, 2015, while an attack by the PKK in Doğubayazıt on August 2, 2015 killed three people. ISIS claimed one death in an attack in Gaziantep on November 15, 2015. Another ISIS attack resulted in the death of 11 people in Istanbul on January 12, 2016. ISIS struck again in Istanbul, killing five people on March 19, 2016. TAK killed one person in Bursa on April 28, 2016 and 13 others in Istanbul on June 7, 2016. An ISIS attack claimed the lives of four in Gaziantep on May 1, 2016, while another resulted in the death of 45 people at Istanbul Atatürk Airport on June 28, 2016.

Against the background of these back-to-back terror attacks, Turkish military members had been on edge and were ordered to mobilize resources to prevent any new attacks, especially on military targets. The intelligence notes on possible terrorist attacks and targets that were sent by MIT prompted the TSK to develop contingencies and rapid response teams. The officers and troops who acted on July 15 under orders thought they were mobilized as part of these contingencies that had been earlier drawn up.

 

July 13, 2016 intelligence note on possible terrorist attacks:

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For example, in an urgent cable titled ‘Activities of ISIS Terrorist Organization” on July 4, 2016, the Land Forces Command shared an intelligence note from MIT which stated that a reliable source said ISIS had been looking to attack tourist sites in major cities after the attack on Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. The intelligence noted that ISIS had a strong presence in Turkey and was capable of conducting multiple bombing attacks in various cities. More ISIS terrorists would be sent to Turkey from Syria, and the terror group was planning to increase its activities in Turkey. The command ordered units to adopt a proactive approach, remain vigilant and implement security measures.

 

 

A purge of the Turkish police, especially in the intelligence and counterterrorism units, left a security vacuum in Turkey. An ISIS attack in Suruç on July 20, 2015 left 32 people dead.

 

In a secret cable sent to Land Forces units by the General Staff on July 13, intelligence was said to have been collected suggesting that the PKK would bring a jeep carrying bombs from Iraq or Syria to carry out a terrorist attack in the downtown Kızılay area of the Turkish capital. Another piece of intel indicated that the separatist group had made preparations to attack some military installations, especially in Van and Şırnak provinces, for the purpose of taking over the bases, albeit temporarily. Another PKK group of some 50 militants would attack a military base in Çukurca.

 

The secret communiqué from 4th Army Corps in Ankara ordering the beefing up of security around military installations:

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The 4th Army Corps ordered ground inspections of security measures in and around garrisons in Ankara: 

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The Land Forces Command asked its units to take measures to prevent attacks and especially instructed the 4th Army Corps, headquartered in Ankara, to take necessary precautions to guard all military units, military institutions, military schools and other facilities.

In an urgent cable dispatched by Land Forces Intelligence on July 14, military units warned other units that ISIS and the PKK might be planning major bombing attacks in major cities with specific targets identified as port and ferry facilities and the Marmaray Metro line in Istanbul. ISIS had been looking for targets at tourist sites in Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara; might assassinate journalists and military and intelligence officials; and could conduct rocket attacks on aircraft at Incirlik Airbase, where US-led anti-ISIS coalition forces were deployed.

The cable also noted that intelligence was picked up from PKK elements in Europe that the separatist group has been looking for an opportunity to attack targets in the Aegean region in the western part of Turkey to change the course of the national agenda. The PKK had trained four suicide bombers in Syria; would procure rockets and mortars from Iran; and dispatch some hundred terrorists to Turkey from the Iranian border.

 

Weekly intelligence terror threat assessment issued on the evening of July 15, 2016:

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On the morning of July 15, the 4th Army Corps Command in Ankara issued a secret order titled “Checking Safety Measures for Barracks in Ankara” and detailed what security measures must be taken to protect garrisons and military installations. It was stated that the effectiveness of the security measures must be reviewed in light of the recent attacks in Ankara. It underlined that additional measures were needed as suggested in three meetings of garrison commanders that were held on January 11, March 16 and June 2. It also noted that the command would set up a special team to examine security measures on the ground.

Again, on the same day but in the evening, in a classified message titled “Weekly Counterterrorism Operation” published by the Land Forces Command detailed how the military was expecting another terrorist attack and was taking measures to prevent it. The intelligence, which covered assessments and information for the week of July 8-14, 2016, listed what measures military units must take. According to this, both ISIS and the PKK had been looking to conduct sensational terrorist attacks on targets in major urban centers.

 

The urgent intelligence message on “Activities of ISIS Terrorist Organization” on July 4, 2016:

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The bulk of the intelligence was based on MIT reports and assessments that were shared with the Turkish military. There was an increasing awareness of possible terror attacks among officers and troops in the military, especially after a major attack on a military busses carrying servicemen. On the night of July 15, most troops thought they were responding to a terror attack and that they were following orders that came through the chain of command. Yet they were later accused of coup plotting and their defense was not heard in partisan courts that conducted trials under immense political pressure from the government. President Erdoğan used the failed coup as a pretext to purge thousands of officers including half the generals and admirals from the military irrespective of whether they joined in the mobilization or not on the night of July 15.

The secret intelligence cables reinforce the widely held belief that the limited mobilization on July 15, 2016 was nothing but a false flag operation plotted by MIT at the direction of Erdoğan, who wanted to consolidate his power under a newly instituted executive presidency and persecute his opponents.

 

Twin suicide attacks in Ankara carried out by ISIS killed 109 people on October 10, 2015.

 

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