Michael Rubin: Will Turkey Take Terror Sponsorship to New Level?

On August 17, a bomb at the Erawan shrine rocked Bangkok, killing 20. The shrine is a tourist attraction, but it is much more a working site for reflection and worship. It sits on a busy street corner in the heart of Bangkok’s high-end shopping district. The bomb was designed to kill and maim as many people as possible. Because the blast was directed outward, it had devastating impact on the adjacent street, where motorcyclists are always stopped for one red light or another. I happened to visit the shrine while staying at the adjacent hotel for a series of meetings and “Track II” dialogue earlier this year; it was packed with locals paying tribute by lighting incense to Phra Phrom, the Thai representation of the Hindu God Brahma, but important to Buddhists as well.

When the attack occurred, there were a number of suspect causes. Thai politics is increasingly polarized. An Islamist insurgency in southern Thailand continues to simmer. In late August, however, Thai police arrested a Turkish national who was in possession of fake passports and explosives. Investigators speculate that he might have wanted to target Chinese tourists in revenge for the deportation of 100 ethnic Uighurs — Chinese Turkic Muslims — back to China. The man caught on video planting the bomb, however, was not caught. Now, it appears he may have fled to Turkey.

Under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule, Turkey has shifted from a frontline state in the battle against terrorism, to an apologist if not sponsor of it. There have been Turkish government, intelligence, or state-owned enterprise fingerprints, for example, on arms traffic to Boko Haram in Nigeria, on diplomatic and logistical support for Hamas, and perhaps even greater complicity with regard to the flow of arms and explosives to the Islamic State.

The international fight against terrorism has always been handicapped by a lack of definition of terror. States like the Islamic Republic of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey readily and repeatedly condemn terrorism but argues that the movements they support are merely resistance; legitimate because of a cause with which their governments agree.

It’s going to be much harder for Erdoğan to simply dismiss accusations of Turkish sympathy if not support and sponsorship of terror if he allows the country over which he presides to be a safe-haven for terror. To suggest that the suspect is hiding is unconvincing; after all, Erdoğan leaves no stone unturned to find any journalist or political cartoonists who criticize him in the slightest. Erdoğan now has a choice: If he extradites the suspect to Thailand, he’s done right. But if he does not return the suspect to Thailand, then he will have confirmed that Turkey is not only a state sponsor of terror but also one with global reach.

By Michael Rubin
Source: Commentary Magazine