The US diplomatic mission in Turkey updated its previous security alert for Americans in Turkey on Monday, warning its nationals of a “possible imminent” attack on Westerners in response to Quran-burning protests in Europe over the past few weeks.
“The US government cautions its citizens of possible imminent retaliatory attacks by terrorists against churches, synagogues and diplomatic missions in Istanbul or other places Westerners frequent, especially in the Beyoglu, Galata, Taksim, and Istiklal areas,” the embassy said, naming Istanbul’s popular touristic neighborhoods.
The warning came after several Western countries’ diplomatic missions in Turkey including France, Spain and the United States warned their citizens last Friday that retaliatory attacks on Westerners were possible following a series of protests in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands in which copies of Islam’s holy book were burned.
On Monday evening, Turkish authorities raised security levels to maximum alert against possible retaliatory attacks from Islamic State or Al Qaeda affiliated groups and added that intelligence shared by foreign countries on the issue are being assessed.
Last week’s warnings drew strong reactions from Ankara with the Turkish Foreign Ministry issuing a counter-alert for Turkish citizens traveling to the United States and “certain European countries” in two separate travel warnings on Saturday. The ministry called on Turkish nationals “to stay vigilant” against increasing “anti-Islamic, xenophobic attacks and racist” activities.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also chimed in Saturday, tweeting, “Heinous attacks on our religion Islam [and] our Holy Book Quran can never cast a shadow on their sanctity. These hate crimes degrade those who commit or allow them. Seeds of hatred you sow will eventually poison your societies.”
The Islamic State group carried out a series of bloody attacks targeting civilians including Westerners in Turkey between 2013 and 2016. Twin suicide bombing attacks by the jihadi group in Ankara on Oct. 10, 2015, left 103 people dead and wounded some 500 in the deadliest attack in the country’s history.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to include a Turkish Interior Ministry statement which was released after publication of this article.