An attempted suicide bombing April 29 against a former Turkish justice minister in Ankara was probably staged by a Marxist-Leninist group that has been quiet since 2006. But it appears there is still a core element of the organization that does have experience planning attacks and could train others to carry them out. The group’s tradecraft, however, has proved less than effective.
Former Turkish Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk was the target of an attempted suicide bombing April 29 at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey. Turk is a member of the law faculty at the university and has taught classes there since he left office in 2002. He was entering a classroom to present a lecture when a woman posing as a student, later identified as Didem Akman, approached him wanting to ask him a question. According to Turk, he dismissed her question and heard a small explosion as he entered the classroom. It appears that the detonator in the improvised explosive device functioned but failed to initiate the device's main charge. (Police report that Akman had one kilogram of explosives strapped to her body.) She also had a handgun that she drew, but she was overpowered by bodyguards and neutralized as a threat. Akman sustained non-life-threatening injuries, but no one else was hurt during the attack. Another suspect, Onur Yilmaz, was arrested at a bus terminal near the university after he was seen in security footage accompanying Akman. Turkish media reported that a third suspect was being questioned in connection with the assassination attempt. According to Reuters, one of the suspects has served time in prison for being connected to the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP/C), a Marxist-Leninist group formed in Turkey in 1978. DHKP/C’s primary target set has been Western and state interests in Turkey, including businesses. The group is known to go after retired security and military personnel and to operate across Europe, including in Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria. The group started using suicide bombings as a tactic in 2001 but has been largely quiet since 2006; a government crackdown on the group over the past 10 years has neutralized its most experienced members, including bombmakers. Replacing these technicians is difficult, as bombmaking requires a level of training and technical knowledge that cannot simply be picked up on the Internet. The tactics used in the April 29 attack match previous DHKP/C tactics, including the use of female suicide bombers. Similar operations were carried out by the group in:
May 2003, when a female suicide bomber blew herself up in an Ankara cafe, killing only herself.
June 2004, when a female operative died en route to carrying out a suicide attack in Istanbul, killing only herself.
July 2005, when a man attempting to detonate a suicide vest in front of Turkey's Justice Ministry in Ankara was shot and killed, preventing the attack.
While its track record in suicide bombings is quite poor, the DHKP/C is suspected to be behind an Istanbul University bus bombing that killed four people and injured 21 in June 2004. The group's tactics have typically included small-scale bombings and small-arms attacks that could easily be conducted by militants with little training or tactical expertise, and there is no reason to believe the group would stray from these methods of operation. There is also no evidence that the group has developed additional capabilities to carry out larger-scale attacks. While many DHKP/C members have been arrested over the past decade, and while there have been no attacks attributed to the group since mid-2006, it appears that there is still a core element of the organization that does have some rudimentary experience planning attacks and could train others to carry them out. Judging by the attack on April 29, the group does not appear to have an accomplished bombmaker. While one attack does not necessarily mean the group has returned from its hiatus, Western businesses should be aware of its presence, given its strongly anti-Western (particularly anti-U.S.) slant. Soft targets such as ex-government officials teaching at a university are a hallmark of the group’s tradecraft. On the other hand, another hallmark of the group appears to be faulty explosive devices, which limits its effectiveness.