More than a month and a half after the Ankara bombings, and following at least three more terrorist attacks with equal magnitude, one question lingers: if Turkish authorities had captured the masterminds of yet another terrorist attack on civilians which claimed the lives of 38 young people, this time in Suruç, a town along the Turkey – Syria border, 2 months prior to Ankara, would Paris attacks still happen?
As the manhunt for Abdelhamid Abaaoud – the alleged mastermind of the series of terrorist attacks on unsuspecting civilians in the heart of Paris – continue in forensics following yesterday’s raids in St. Denis, there seem to be parallels between the profile drawn for Abaaoud in the media and the Alagöz brothers, who claimed hundreds of lives in Suruç and Ankara bombings combined. Abaaoud comes from a middle income family, Moroccan migrants, living in Belgium. He mixes up with the “bad boys of the neighbourhood” and is reported to have a history of petty theft and drug abuse, so not your typical devout Muslim. He allegedly receives training in Raqqa. This all from the Western media reports. Only after the investigation following the Paris attacks unearths an interview with him on Dabiq, an online magazine acting as the propaganda arm of ISIS/ISIL/IS, do we find out that he was also responsible for a number of attacks in Belgium and France as well as one of the targets of the French police raid in Verviers following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. He manages to escape, and on issue 7 of Dabiq, pages 72-75 there is a special interview with Abaaoud, or Abu Umar al-Baljiki as IS refers to him, then apparently in Syria. In the article Abaaoud is portrayed as a “Muslim brother” pursued by the Western authorities “for his jihad”. The reason this interview is important lies in the date it was published online: the front page dates the issue as 1436 Rabi’ Al-Akhir which when converted to the Gregorian calendar is a period spanning from January to February of 2015, 10 months before the Paris attacks. So we knew Abaaoud, we knew where he was, what he was capable of and more or less what he had in mind. Much like we knew about the Alagoz brothers and what they were capable of especially after the massacre in Suruç.
Alagöz brothers also come from middle income families, conservative yet not necessarily radical. We now know that Yunus Emre Alagöz, the suicide bomber in Ankara ran a tea-house in Adıyaman, with his brother Şeyh Abrurrahman Alagöz, the suicide bomber in Suruç. One of the recruits of this Islam Tea-House is Orhan Gönder, arrested, released, and re-arrested and being charged with planting a bomb that went off at a HDP rally in Diyarbakır before June 6 elections in Turkey. All these men and many more are on a security list of potential terrorists and are believed to be indoctrinated in this tea-house, flying low under the security radar. The tea-house, reminiscent of Osama Bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam’s guesthouse for jihadi recruits in Peshawer, Pakistan which eventually culminated in the roster of names which is now Al-Qaida, was reported several times by locals to the police as the neighbours were disturbed by what they described as “suspect visitors and murky activity” going on inside.
Orhan Gönder, who was being sought after the Diyarbakır bombing had contact with police during a random identity search looking for young men who have not yet enlisted in the army for their mandatory military service. The police came into the hotel in which Gönder stayed, checked the identity cards of men above 18 against a list by the Turkish army, and as his name was not on that particular list, set Gönder free. As for the Alagöz brothers, their telephone conversations have been tapped, we now know they were under surveillance. Yet the security forces did nothing except to call in their older brother Yusuf Alagöz for questioning.
IS never claimed the bombing in Suruç and in Ankara by issuing a communiqe as they are known to do on the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, and now the day after Paris attacks. Alagöz and the recruits of Islam Tea-House were instead listed off as IS sympathizers, not necessarily an IS sleeper cell. Yet the families of the bombers think otherwise. They say their sons were indoctrinated by Mustafa Dokumacı and Kasap Hacı both of whom are believed to be in Raqqa. Gönder’s family say they even warned MIT, the Turkish Intelligence Service about their son.
21 days after Ankara bombing, world woke up to a trending news story about a Russian plane crashing in the Sinai. What would soon turn into a conflicting mashup of narratives by different interest groups (Russia, Egypt, UK and IS) interest in the story would fail to hold up the airwaves for too long. However now, post-Paris, we are told it was a terrorist attack and that a bomb blew up on board. We know more so because IS, once again published what this IED is, and western media and weapon experts picked up on it.
12 days after the Russian plane crash, there would be a twin suicide attack in a Shia neighborhood, a Hezbollah stronghold, in Beirut, claiming 37 lives. Both attacks would soon be claimed by the Islamic State. And 3 days on, the complex terrorist attack would unfold in Paris.
Same issue of Dabiq that published the interview with Abaaoud open with Zarqawi’s words: “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dābiq.” So had we heeded these threats a bit more, with all the mind blowing surveillance that the intelligence services are undertaking ever since 9/11, could we have averted all this mayhem?
To be continued…