President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s criticism of Belgian and Dutch authorities over not monitoring the ISIS suicide bomber earlier deported by Turkey has caused acute political embarrassment for the Belgium government.
So much so that it brought about a reaction almost unheard of in Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey. After being put on the spot by the Turkish President, Belgium’s Interior Minister Jan Jambon and Justice Minister Koen Geens offered to leave their posts, but the resignations were declined by their Prime Minister.
Belgium is facing serious questions over its handling of the Islamist threat and its security failures in Brussels attacks. The European Union as a whole is in a soul-searching mood. They are looking for ways to improve cooperation and to establish clearer lines of communication against future terror attacks.
Turkey is within its rights to highlight Belgium’s shortcomings in taking the necessary steps, but only up to a point. Keeping its own less than perfect record in prevention in mind, Turkey might be wise to refrain from contrasting its record with that of the European Union.
Ömer Çelik, the spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) went a step further than the President and accused Europe not only of incompetency, but also of having double standards. He complained that they were not showing the same sensitivity they displayed about ISIS to the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK).
Turkey has some justification in its criticism of Belgium for its traditionally lax attitude to fighting extremism. The Marxist DHKP-C militant Fehriye Erdal, wanted for the 1996 assassination of Ozdemir Sabanci, one of Turkey’s leading businessmen, managed to hide in Belgium for several years. When she was finally captured and convicted by a Belgian court, she went missing the next day.
While Belgium has had a questionable track record, Turkey has long suffered from a credibility problem. Often haphazard and inefficient extradition attempts in European countries were not helped by Turkey’s dodgy human rights record.
A news item disseminated by the government mouthpiece Anatolian Agency on Thursday showed, once again, the official claims that the Kurdish insurgency of the PKK and the Islamist ISIS violence being “the one and the same” were never going to be very convincing.
Claiming that ISIS militants were trained in the PKK/PYD camps in Syria and Iraq and then travelled to Europe under the PKK disguise to commit terrorist attacks, would only weaken Turkey’s arguments. Especially if, on the very same day, a Turkish court decided the last seven suspects linked to the Turkish branch of ISIS, could be tried without being in custody while a prominent Turkish academic, arrested for signing a peace declaration, was moved into solitary confinement in jail. The whole thing has become a sick joke.
There is no doubt that Turkey is set to move itself into a very tight legal corner in the coming days.
The arrest of Reza Zarrab, a controversial Iranian-born businessman, in Miami this week is likely to have unforeseen consequences for Turkey’s rulers. Mr. Zarrab, one of the key figures at the centre of Turkey’s 2013 corruption scandal, was indicted in the US, accused of violating international sanctions against Iran and money laundering.
These serious charges against Mr Zarrab, who was very close to government circles and was once described by Mr. Erdogan as a “charitable businessman”, came a week before the Turkish President’s visit to the USA.
We will wait and see if it Mr Erdogan’s visit will go ahead as planned, but the manipulation of the justice system in Turkey for political ends and the utter disregard for the rule of law were bound to backfire on Mr Erdogan and the AKP one day. This week’s multiple developments make me think that the day may come sooner than we think.
This post is also available in: Turkish