How Turkey has avoided major terror attacks in the last year

Turkey has managed to avoid a major terrorist attack for over a year, reports journalist Borzou Daragahi in news website BuzzFeed, drawing on information provided by a Turkish security official in a rare interview.

Although the decades long struggle the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey’s shows no signs of abating, Aaron Stein, an expert on security at think tank the Atlantic Council, says “The military has bottled up the insurgency in the southeast. The PKK is still able to carry out hit-and-run attacks, but I don’t think there is any denying that their freedom of movement has been severely curtailed.”

ISIS, despite its loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, also remains a substantial threat. The Turkish media regularly carries reports of arrests of suspected ISIS members in Turkey and the foiling of planned attacks.

Turkey’s anti-ISIS efforts start at its borders, which security forces have made increasingly impermeable. A 911-kilometer wall was constructed along Turkey’s border with Syria to prevent illegal crossings.

The security official interviewed described how security forces combating ISIS inspired attacks focus on preventing the self-radicalization of potential lone-wolf assailants. Doing so involves labour intensive surveillance by security personnel.

The official also suggested that a purge within the security forces following 2016’s failed coup attempt may have helped rather than hindered Turkish security forces’ efforts by bringing in new blood and removing those with their own agendas.

Experts say the Turkish approach to counter-terrorism efforts rely heavily on electronic surveillance, especially CCTV cameras, since ISIS fighters generally avoid using phones or email. But unlike in the West, Turkish security services are not overly burdened by concerns relating to personal privacy.

Another factor contributing to Turkey’s success in preventing attacks over the past year  is intelligence sharing with European countries’ security services.

“Deeper cooperation between the EU and Turkey, particularly in terms of intelligence sharing, will continue to be crucial,” concluded a forum on Turkey’s role in Western counter-terror efforts last year. “However, unless there is a convergence between the EU and Turkey regarding terrorism, deeper cooperation against terrorism cannot be taken for granted.”

Stein adds, “By all accounts, Turkish counter-terror coordination with the West on ISIS also works fairly well, despite the political tensions.”