US Warns Again of Possible ‘Imminent’ Attack in Turkey Following Quran Burning
Washington has raised concerns over places of worship and areas frequented by Westerners
The US warned again of a possible “imminent” terrorist attack in Istanbul on Monday, following more Quran-burning incidents in Europe over the stalling of bids by Sweden and Finland to join NATO.
Washington, along with France and Germany, had first issued safety alerts on Friday, warning that citizens should be especially careful around places of worship and areas frequented by Westerners, citing the burning of the Muslim holy book.
The update on Monday states there may be “possible imminent retaliatory attacks by terrorists” targeted at churches, synagogues and diplomatic missions, as well as specifying the areas of Beyoglu, Galata and Taksim, and a pedestrian mall on Istiklal Avenue in downtown Istanbul, all areas popular with Westerners and tourists.
The statement said Turkish authorities are investigating and recommended that people stay away from crowded areas and “keep a low profile.”
France’s warning on Friday referenced the US alert, urging its citizens to use “maximum vigilance,” echoing the focus on areas visited by foreign nationals and places of worship.
Germany stated that security authorities believe the risk of terrorist attacks has increased after the burning of the Quran in front of the Turkish embassy in Sweden.
A far-right politician in Stockholm first burned the holy book during a protest on January 21 against Ankara blocking Sweden’s bid to join NATO.
“Islamophobic provocations are appalling. Sweden has a far-reaching freedom of expression, but it does not imply that the Swedish government, or myself, support the opinions expressed,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström tweeted afterward.
On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reportedly blamed Sweden for the incident.
“The Swedish government has taken part in this crime by allowing this vile act,” he said, according to the Turkish state news agency.
The burning led to thousands demonstrating in Afghanistan on Friday.
Also on Friday, Turkey summoned the Danish ambassador after the same politician also burned the Quran in Copenhagen.
Turkey has stalled the applications of Sweden and Finland, which formally requested to join NATO in May 2022 in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, claiming that Stockholm was supporting terrorism.
Ankara has demanded that Sweden deport people Turkey deems terrorists, including supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and a group it blames for the 2016 failed coup attempt.
Omer Özkizilcik, a foreign policy and security analyst based in Ankara, told The Media Line that it is possible that calls to put pressure on Turkey will increase as the dispute continues.
“I personally do not expect that anything will happen much from the Western countries as most of the Western countries would prefer to wait it out until the elections,” Özkizilcik said. Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in Turkey in June.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s critics believe his objections to the countries’ NATO applications is to whip up support from his nationalist base ahead of the hotly contested national elections this year.
“By blocking Swedish NATO membership Erdogan is undermining [Turkish] credibility as a reliable partner. Elections are no excuse for playing with European security,” tweeted Michael Roth, the chairman of Germany’s foreign affairs committee, on Tuesday.
The races for both president and control of the parliament are expected to be close.
Polls have suggested several opposition politicians could beat Erdogan in head-to-head races as concerns over the country’s dire finances dragged down the president’s popularity, although recent surveys have shown a rise in his approval rating.
However, the Erdogan’s ratings went down slightly after the bombing in Novenber on Istanbul’s popular Istiklal Avenue shopping area, a surprise to some analysts who believed the hardliner would benefit from increased security fears.
The fight over NATO membership also has led some to call for Turkey to be removed from the military alliance.
Former US National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted last week: “Seriously considering their expulsion or suspension will emphasize the stakes of their coming elections, making it harder for Erdogan to subvert the vote, and give opposition candidates a real chance.”
Erdogan has often drawn scorn from NATO countries over a wide range of differences, including Turkey’s human rights record and the purchase of Russian weapons.
Ryan Bohl, a Middle East analyst for the risk intelligence company RANE, says that the Turkish president’s behavior so far has been similar to his past actions but could risk his country’s role in NATO in the future.
Erdogan is “increasingly moving into the space where continued delay of Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO will cause deeper Western skepticism of Turkey’s role within the alliance,” Bohl told The Media Line.
“If he delays after the election that will significantly worsen and could spread to politicians rather than just pundits and think tanks,” he added.