Turkey’s Flirt With Islamists Turns Sour in Somalia

Article Summary
Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for an attack on a Turkish Embassy compound in Somalia; some believe the bombing was a response to Turkey’s foreign policy and image as a ‘secular Islamic’ nation.

Following a July 27 suicide attack on the annex of the Turkish Embassy in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, slain special forces policeman Sinan Yilmaz and three seriously wounded policemen were flown to Turkey. The al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group claimed responsibility for the bloody bombing.

In comments to Taraf, retired diplomats and foreign affairs experts drew attention to Turkey’s links with radical Islamist groups and stressed that such ties do not always produce the desired results.

Asked whether al-Shabab’s claim of responsibility would affect Turkey’s Syria policy, retired ambassador Temel Iskit said: “I wish it did, since Turkey’s policy of helping Syrian opposition groups affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda is wrong.” Foreign affairs commentator and journalist Semih Idiz [a contributor to Al-Monitor] said: “Regarding the attack on the embassy, I can say that courting Islamist groups does not always produce the desired results. We already see that the flirt with Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria is turning sour.”

Turkish diplomats targeted

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A three-man team of suicide bombers drove a car into to the annex of the Turkish Embassy in Mogadishu on Saturday, July 27. The police on guard at the building went on alert. Two of the assailants were killed in the ensuing shootout, but the third managed to blow himself up. Special forces officer Sinan Yilmaz died, while three other policemen were wounded. In a message on Twitter, al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the attack, and said it had targeted Turkish diplomats. The group accused Turkey of being among countries that “support the apostate regime [in Somalia] and seek to suppress the Sharia order.”

Turkey likely targeted for being secular Muslim nation

In further comments on the attack, Iskit said: “Al-Qaeda is an umbrella organization with a radical Islamist and even terrorist roof. Many small groups are active across the Middle East under that roof. I wouldn’t say they have a common strategy. Rather, they engage in terrorist activities depending on the country they're in. I don’t think the attack on the Turkish embassy was related to Syria. I don’t see this as a strong possibility.

“Al-Qaeda has made statements describing Turkey as ‘the representative of secularism.’ Somalia is a country where Islamist gangs are running wild. The state has all but collapsed. So, I don’t see a link between the attack and the al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria. The Turkish Embassy in Somalia was likely targeted because of the notion of Turkey as ‘the representative of secularism’ and the work that Turkey is doing there, together with the UN, as a secular Muslim country.”

Asked whether al-Shabab’s claim of responsibility would affect Turkey’s policy vis-à-vis radical groups in Syria, Iskit said: “I wish this attack would sway our Syria policy in a way that we abandon that policy altogether in favor of the more appropriate policy of extending support — with lesser strings attached — to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) as part of our policy of reconciliation with the Kurds and the peace process.”

Al-Shabab’s claim of responsibility 'intriguing'

Idiz, for his part, added the following comments: “Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently said, ‘Those groups are betraying the opposition.’ The al-Shabab group in Somalia is linked to al-Qaeda. Its claim of responsibility for the embassy attack is very intriguing, since rumors are circulating in diplomatic circles, especially those of EU countries, that the embassy was attacked while talks were being held with al-Shabab behind the scene.

“The attack has to do with Turkey’s policies vis-à-vis Islamist groups rather than its Africa policy. When it comes to the question of whether Turkey would now end support for [Islamist] groups in Syria, that support in fact is already being gradually reduced. Turkey failed to persuade the West to arm the Syrian opposition. The West worries about where those weapons would end up. So, the groups in Syria have now become an impediment for Turkey.”

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