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Who planned the Ankara Peace Rally Bombings?

Twin simultaneous bombings ripped through a crowd of opposition supporters and Kurdish activists at an Ankara peace rally today killing 97, maiming and injuring over 246. The bombings occurred just a few weeks before a snap election scheduled for November 1st.  There is suspicion that the Turkish President couldn’t have wished for a more timely mishap.  It comes before an election he called to try and eliminate the Kurdish minority HDP party and return his AKP  party to its previous super majority.  You may recall the Suruc bombing in July that killed 33 socialist youths affiliated with the HDP that kick started the PKK uprising in southeastern Turkey. That was used as a pretext for Erdogan’s subsequent counter terrorism campaign and air assault on both Syrian Kurdish YPG and PKK bastions in northern Iraq. The better to condition the US request for Turkish clearance of the use of Incirlik air base for the flagging air assault campaign against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. It is not without coincidence that he PKK today called for a temporary truce before the looming election.  The conventional wisdom is, as in the Suruc case , that it was possibly the work of ISIS. However, there may have been other Islamist contenders for this latest terrorist spectacle in Turkey.  Recall that the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, the IHH, an ally of the AKP regime, supplied funds and weapons to opposition Islamist groups in Syria.

Watch this ReutersTV video of the Ankara Peace Rally bombings.

Our usually astute  European observer of things Turkish drew attention  in a conversation following the Ankara blasts  that daily polls taken by Erdogan show that his standing has slipped . Thus, indicating that his quest for conversion of the currently ceremonial post of President in Turkey to an executive one with broad powers may be out of reach. Moreover, our colleague indicated that the opposition in the Ankara parliament, including Republican, Nationalist and the Kurdish HDP parties, are united against AKP supremacy.  In fact, he said, the parliament is rarely convened in Ankara by the caretaker government. He also noted that when he viewed Turkish television coverage of the Ankara  bombing incident there were HDP flags and banners  prominent in the footage along with those of trade union groups. However, following the deadly blast, he observed that footage somehow disappeared from Turkish television news reports.

With the dramatic entry of Russia in the Syrian fray both Erdogan’s and Obama’s vain hopes for control of the situation have been eclipsed. Calls for establishment of both no-fly zones and safe havens by the Turkish and US Congressional and Presidential hopefuls appear to be wishful thinking.  Russian President Putin has thrown in his lot with Iran  propping  up the besieged Syrian President Bashar Assad who controls less than one sixth of his country.  Thus, the suspicion is today’s Peace rally bombings might not been perpetrated by PKK, known Marxist terrorist groups or ISIS. That leaves the question of whether Islamists groups allied with Erdogan and the AKP may have been complicit in the bombings?  In the dictatorial regime of Erdogan with a chastened prosecution and judiciary, the answers to these questions may not emerge with any perfunctory forensic investigation by Turkish authorities.

Screen-Shot-2015-10-10-at-10.42.31-PM-800x594The Washington Post (WaPo) report described the grisly and chaotic scene following the bombings, “Blasts kill scores at peace rally in Turkey in sign of worsening instability.”   Note in these excerpts how the Turkish PM Davutoglu asserts this bombing was aimed as disrupting what passes for democracy in this NATO ally and other commentators immediately suspect ISIS.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Saturday there were “strong indications” the attack was carried out by suicide bombers, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility. He said the target was Turkish unity, democracy and stability.

“Early indicators would point to ISIS as the culprit,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Either way, “this could well be Turkey’s 9/11,” Cagaptay said. “This is simply the worst terror attack in Turkish history.”

The United States also condemned the twin bombings as a terrorist attack. “It is particularly important at this time that all Turkish citizens recommit to peace and stand together against terror,” the State Department said in a statement.

The demonstrators, mobilized by a coalition of Turkish trade unions, had gathered outside Ankara’s main [train] station hours earlier to chant, wave banners and flags and call for peace. The crowd included a mix of Kurdish and leftist Turkish activists, local media reports said.

A video circulated on social media showed demonstrators linking arms to perform a traditional dance before a fiery explosion erupted in the background, sending the crowd into a panic. It was unclear whether that explosion was from the first or the second bomb detonated outside the station.

Images from the scene showed dazed and bloody demonstrators clinging to one another in the aftermath of the blasts. Bodies, some of them dismembered, lay on the street, covered with flags protesters had brought to the march.

Tensions between police and demonstrators flared following the explosions, after activists accused security forces of blocking ambulances arriving to treat the injured. Turkey’s pro-democracy activists say they are fed up with a state that is quick to crack down on dissenters but cannot keep its own citizens safe from terrorists.

In a live television broadcast, Turkish Interior Minister Selami Altinok said in response to a reporter’s question that he would not resign because there had been no security breach.

Still, Turkish authorities announced a news blackout on images showing the moment of each blast, gruesome or bloody images or “images that create a feeling of panic,” according to the Associated Press. The agency also reported that social media users in Ankara were unable to access Twitter after the blast.

Turkey, which media watchdog groups say has one of the world’s worst records on press freedom, often blocks access to Twitter and other sites for content the government deems inappropriate.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Turkish Peace Rally protesters dancing moments before deadly bombings in Ankara. Source: Reuters TV.

Qatar Deports Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Meshaal?

Just before year end, on December 30, 2014, we posted on pronouncements from Qatar about abandoning support for the Muslim Brotherhood and opening up dialogue with Egypt’s President El-Sisi. El-Sisi , then Defense Chief ousted President Morsi , a former Muslim Brotherhood leader in a coup on July 2013, Has Qatar turned Away from Islamist Support in the Middle East?  Earlier on December 6, 2014, we reported that the Qatari Ambassador to the US,  H.E. Mohammed Jaham Al-Kuwari at a presentation before the Pensacola, Florida Tiger Bay Club proclaimed, “We do not support Hamas”.  He astounded some in the audience. In retrospect, given today’s news about Qatar expelling, Hamas Politburo leader, that may have been a scoop.  If confirmed, that would end Meshall’s three year sojourn in the gas rich Gulf state.  However, denials by Senior Hamas leader and the lack of confirmation from Qatar raise questions.  CNN reported:

Senior Hamas official Izzat Risheq denied reports Monday that the group’s political leader Khaled Meshaal has been expelled from Qatar.

Earlier Monday, sources close to Hamas told CNN that Meshaal and members of the Muslim Brotherhood were expelled from Qatar, and were most likely on the way to Turkey.

The Qatari government has not commented.

Saudi Arabia has been working to improve relations between Qatar and Egypt.

Israel’s reaction to this development was what you might expect as reported by AP:

The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it “welcomes Qatar’s decision to expel the head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, to Turkey.” It said the Qatari decision came after heavy diplomatic pressure from Israel.

“We expect the Turkish government to act responsibly in a similar way,” it added.

Hardly, likely.  Meshaal traveled to Ankara on December 25, 2014 and met with Islamist AKP President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  Meshaal then showed up on December 27, 2014 at the annual convention of AKP Party of President Erdogan held at the hometown of AKP Premier Dovutoglu in Konor. Al-Monitor reported his reception and remarks:

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu appeared on Dec. 27 with Meshaal in Davutoglu hometown, Konya, for the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) annual assembly. Known for being conservative, Konya residents jubilantly greeted Meshaal, as reported by Islamist news network Takva Haber: “The democratic and secular Hamas leader reminded Konya residents of their protests in the 1980s in solidarity with Jerusalem.”

Turkish mainstream media reported Meshaal’s appearance in Konya as a surprise visit. Meshaal gave a brief but potent speech in which he praised Erdogan and Davutoglu multiple times as the crowd waived Turkish and Palestinian flags, passionately cheering “Allahu akbar” (God is great) and “Down with Israel.” Meshaal said: “A strong Turkey means a strong Jerusalem and a strong Palestine. … Inshallah [God willing], we will liberate Jerusalem together. A strong Turkey is a source of power for all Muslims.”

Erdogan has gone out of his way to support Hamas as fellow Brothers. That included the infamous exiled Egyptian Brotherhood preacher, the anti-American and anti-Semitic Yusuf al Qaradawi, head of the US Global terror financing conduit, Union of Good. In our December 6th post we drew attention to an Interpol Red Tag Warrant issued for the arrest of al-Qaradawi sought for extradition “to serve a sentence” for crimes including “incitement and assistance to commit intentional murder” in El-Sisi’s Egypt.  Al Monitor in a December 12, 2014 report on the Arrest Warrant noted Erdogan saying:

His resentment publicly at the Fifth Religious Council in Ankara Dec. 8, Erdogan said: “Look, a person who came to power through a coup is giving instructions to Interpol. Based on this instruction a step is being taken for the arrest of Youssef al-Qaradawi, president of the [International] Union of Muslim Scholars. What kind of a business is this?”

 The Qatari Ambassador’s  presentation on December 6th in Pensacola was eclipsed by the Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s  appearance at a GCC summit in Doha three days later on December 9th that marked the start of a lowering of Qatar’s profile internationally reflected in  a Wall Street Journal  op by Yaroslav Trofimov’,  Qatar Scales Back Role in Middle East Conflicts.   The Qatari Ambassador to Washington comments about Meshaal at the Pensacola Tiger Bay Club meeting in response to his status may have been cover for what may have happened yesterday when H.E. Ambassador Al-Kuwari said, “Better to have Khaled Meshaal in Qatar than across the Gulf in Iran”.  Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas is said to live in luxury and control funds estimated at over $2.0 billion.

 Now it is likely that Khaled Meshaal, and possibly MB Preacher Al Qaradawi and others in the Hamas Politburo entourage in Doha may have also found new refuge and safe haven for their ill-gotten billions in Turkey. Meanwhile Hamas leaders in Gaza are complaining bitterly that less than $100 million out of the $5.4 billion pledged to rebuild the enclave have been received since the Cairo conference with Arab states following the cease fire that ended the 50 day war with Israel in the summer of 2014.  Trofimov in his WSJ analysis noted the turnabout following the Emir al-Thani appearance at the Doha   Gulf Cooperation Council meeting on December 9th:

Trofimov in his WSJ analysis  noted the turnabout:

After their threats to boycott a summit of Gulf monarchies in Doha this month, Qatar revised its stance on the critical point of disagreement—how to treat the Muslim Brotherhood and the current Egyptian leadership, which ousted the Islamist group from power last year.

Having expelled several Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders ahead of the summit, Qatar sent a senior envoy to Egypt on Dec. 20 to seek a rapprochement with President Abdel Fattah El -Sisi.

Two days later, Qatar shut down the Egyptian channel of its Al Jazeera TV network, an outlet for the Brotherhood and other opponents of Egypt’s current leadership.

“The security of Egypt is important for the security of Qatar,” Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said.

Our conclusion from our December 30th post is worth repeating:

Thus, tiny Qatar has been forced to rein in its support of the Islamist jihadist causes because of geo-political realities, leaving Turkey’s President Erdogan as the lone supporter of Hamas in the region.  That has been fueled by the US energy revolution producing a glut in the weakened demand for oil and gas that precipitated the plummeting oil and gas prices.

We shall see if Qatar makes the transition away from being a Frenemy dropping its support for the Brotherhood in the region and in Gaza. Backing Egypt’s security was likely a show of good faith to be brought back into the fold of the Gulf Cooperation Council. If Qatar can clean up its problems with the construction of the FIFA 2022 World Cup including alleged human rights violations of foreign workers, it may be on the path to rehabilitation in the world community. Still Qatar is not a budding democracy as it tries to portray itself. Rather it an Arab autocracy granting little to no human rights to its 280,000 citizens and nearly 1.8 million foreign workers.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured image is of Khaled Meshaal, Hamas Politburo chief, at a Doha 7-23-14 news conference. Source: Reuters.