The flags of the Republic of Turkey and the United States of America. Photo: AA
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — In a new chapter of the diplomatic spat between the US and Turkey, Ankara has warned its citizens against travelling to the US due to “acts of terrorism, acts of violence and arbitrary arrests” following the US raising its travel advisory to Level 3, encouraging Americans to “reconsider travel” there.
“We observe an increase in terror attacks and violence attacks in the US,” warned the Turkish foreign ministry on Friday.
A number of terrorist or violent acts are occurring in the United States, read the Turkish statement.
The warning added that Turkish officials face arbitrary detention on false claims on sympathizers of FETO, a derogatory term used for Fethullah Gulen, the cleric blamed for organizing the failed military coup in 2016 in Turkey, in reference to Mehmet Hakan Atilla’s, the deputy C.E.O. of Halk Bank, case.
US District Judge Richard M. Berman said the defense, which first raised the subject of Gulen, was attempting to introduce an "illogical foreign conspiracy theory" with no foundation in the record as a diversion from issues in the case. He called the tactic "unpersuasive and borderline unprofessional."
Prosecutors say the FBI began investigating after the US Department of the Treasury realized in 2013 that Atilla, wealthy gold trader Reza Zarrab, and others were conspiring to use front companies, forged documents and fake transactions involving gold or humanitarian shipments of food to get around US economic sanctions imposed on Iran.
Zarrab, who has pleaded guilty to charges and testified against Atilla, said that he had paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials and others in the scheme.
The move by the Turkish foreign ministry comes after the US State Department announced a new travel advisory system for 2018.
“Within that Travel Advisory, we have gone to a four-level ranking system, starting with a Level 1, which is “Exercise normal precautions.” Level 2 is “Exercise increased caution,” Level 3 is “Reconsider travel,” and level four is “Do not travel,” explained Michelle Bernier-Toth, Bureau of Consular Affairs Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services in a Wednesday press conference.
Turkey was initially Level 2, but was raised to Level 3 “due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions” on Thursday.
Americans were told “not to travel to” areas along the Turkey-Syria border and many southeastern provinces, including Sirnak which border the Kurdistan Region.
Sirnak has a domestic airport, as well as Turkey’s Ibrahim Khalil border gate with the Kurdistan Region’s Ibrahim Khalil crossing.
Americans were encouraged to avoid public areas, night clubs, and transportation hubs, among other events.
“Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Turkey,” stated the US State Department. “Terrorist organizations explicitly target Western tourists and expatriates.”
The US statement did not name any particular organization.
“Under the current State of Emergency, security forces have detained individuals suspected of affiliation with alleged terrorist organizations based on scant or secret evidence and grounds that appear to be politically motivated,” read the travel advisory from the US.
Turkey has faced ISIS attacks and arrested suspects from the far north to the south. In 2015, Turkish police raided an ISIS depot in Gaziantep, seizing weapons and more than five tons of ammonium nitrated used in making explosives.
It is estimated some 40,000 foreigners joined ISIS and came to Syria to join and fight. The defeat of ISIS on the battlefield in Syria in Iraq did not close off escape routes, AFP reported, ISIS fighters were able to blend in with civilian refugees or bribe their way to sneak into Turkey.
The mostly-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) comprise the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been the partnered ground force for the US-led international coalition against ISIS.
Turkey conflates the YPG with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a listed terrorist organization by the United States and Turkey. YPG denies any organic links to the PKK.
PKK is considered a terrorist by both the US, Turkey and EU. It has carried out a rebellion that began 40 years go against the Turkish state to achieve greater national and cultural rights for millions of Kurds in the country.
The United States suspended all non-immigrant visa services in Turkey on October 8 after the arrest of US consulate general was arrested in the US. Turkey responded with the same measures. Bilateral visa services have since been fully restored.
US’ support for the YPG, arrest warrants for Turkish security officials who skirmished with protesters during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Washington in 2016, Turkey's arrest of a Turkish national working at a US consulate, and the US' refusal to extradite Gulen have strained recent bilateral relations.