As It Happens

Allies like Canada are failing Turkey in its fight against terror, says Istanbul MP

Turkish politician Egemen Bağış defends his government's security measures, despite the purge of officers that followed a coup attempt over the summer.
Mourners watch as others carry the Turkish flag-draped coffin of one of the victims of the attack at a nightclub on New Year's Day, during the funeral in Istanbul on Monday. (Emrah Gurel/The Associated Press)

Read Story Transcript

A little more than an hour after the clock struck midnight in Turkey, a gunman got out of a taxi and entered an Istanbul nightclub during New Year's celebrations. He fired 180 bullets into the crowd over the course of seven minutes. And then he fled.

The attack in Reina Nightclub early Sunday morning left at least 39 people dead, including Canadian woman Alaa Al-Muhandis from Milton, Ont. Sixty-nine others were injured. Many who survived did so by playing dead, or miraculously avoiding the hail of bullets.

Police continued to search for the perpetrator on Monday. ISIS, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for the shooting.

It's the latest in a string of attacks in Turkey. Last month, bombs outside an Istanbul soccer stadium killed dozens of people.The following week, a gunman inside an art exhibit in Ankara assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey.

Since Sunday morning's attack, critics of the Turkish government have asked questions about country's security measures, particularly since a coup attempt in the summer led to mass firings of officers.

Former European Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış speaks at the Turkish parliament in Ankara in May, 2014. Bağış says Turkey has been fighting terrorist groups on multiple fronts, with insufficient support from its allies. (Burhan Ozbilici/The Associated Press)

Egemen Bağış is the former Minister of European Union Affairs in Turkey, and a member of Turkish Parliament with the ruling AK Party. He spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann on Monday from Istanbul.

Egemen Bağış: The country is united against terror. People from left and right, men, women, children, different ethnicities, different religious groups are all united, and they're all condemning terrorism. We have been fighting against PKK terrorism. We're fighting against Daesh, ISIS. We're fighting against FETO. We're fighting against the HKPC. So we know how hard dealing with terrorism is.

Helen Mann: Why do you think the gunman targeted the Reina nightclub in particular on the weekend?

EB: I think they are trying to create instability in Turkey. They're trying to break Turkey apart from where she belongs, which is the Western world. They're trying to scare the people in Turkey, and they're trying to create instability in the country.

HM: This nightclub was frequented by a lot of tourists, as I understand it as well.

EB: This is one of the most well-known places of Istanbul. Many tourists, many artists who have ever come to Turkey, have visited this place. This was New Year's Eve, and they are trying to create an atmosphere of fight in the country, at a time when people were so hopeful that a new beginning was emerging.

HM: Given that Turkey has been under a state of emergency since the summertime and the coup attempt, all the security on the streets that's been added, I'm wondering how you think this gunman was able to successfully carry out this attack.

EB: It's apparent that this gunman was very experienced. He was a cold-blooded murderer. He came in with an automatic rifle, shooting at people. He killed everyone on his way. He didn't mind killing civilians. So, he is a psychopath.

HM: But we are told he passed through three security checkpoints in a taxi before he got to the club. The club is across from a police station, and there were 25,000 officers in Istanbul alone that night. Does that not raise some concerns for you?

EB: The checkpoints of the club that he entered, he shot everyone down. He was walking in with an automatic rifle, shooting left and right.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, is illuminated in the colours of the flag of Turkey on Monday, the day after an assailant killed dozens of people in a crowded Istanbul nightclub during New Year's celebrations. (Michael Sohn/The Associated Press)

HM: Some are questioning the experience of those cops around Istanbul because after the coup, a lot of police and security officials were purged by the government, and some of these are new people. Do you think that could have been one of the factors here, in terms of the breakdown in security?

EB: Those police officers who were fired from their duties belonged to a different terrorist organization, who did not mind using our own warplanes to bomb our own parliament back in July. So we could not have kept them on duty. It was only natural for them to be fired, and some of them have been arrested. They have now been prosecuted. This could not have been prevented that easily. We went through a similar incident in Brussels, in Paris, in Berlin. It's very difficult to stop them.

HM: As you know, there are many people who question whether that number of police officers were disloyal to the government, and question the nature of the purge. You're confident that they would not have been more effective on the streets than the police were this weekend?

EB: I have no doubt about that. I have full confidence in our security officers, in our police force, and I'm glad that my police force has been cleansed of terrorists.

HM: According to one report, we're seeing more than 500 people have been killed in Turkey since July of 2015 in major attacks. What more, then, do you think could be done to prevent these kinds of incidents?

EB: It's a very awkward situation right now because we're dealing with many terrorist organizations at the same time. But we're not getting the due cooperation and support and solidarity from our allies. There is a lack of intelligence sharing, vis-à-vis our allies. We're trying to fight with ISIS in al-Bab, in Syria, in Iraq, and our allies who have been with ISIS are not providing as much support and intelligence on this front. We have a saying Turkish. If your neighbour's house is on fire and you don't help them put it out, that fire will eventually burn your own home.

Pro-government supporters protest on the road leading to Istanbul's iconic Bosporus Bridge in July. Turkish lawmakers endorsed sweeping new powers for Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that would allow him to expand a crackdown in the wake of a July 15 failed coup. (Emrah Gurel/The Associated Press)

HM: Given the ground that ISIS has been losing in Syria and Iraq, how fearful are you that they will continue to target Turkey with increased venom?

EB: The only way to deal with terrorism is through determination. We're determined to fight against terrorism, with or without the support of our allies. I haven't seen any soldiers from Canada or the United States fighting alongside my soldiers, to be honest.

HM: Do you think there's any value in the criticism that perhaps your government has been fighting the wrong people? That they've been so focused on the aftermath of that coup that they're not dealing effectively with the external threat?

EB: No, I don't believe in that. That's just propaganda to damage the impression of Turkey. We are dealing with PKK terrorism for the last 40 years, and there has not been one single PKK terrorist that has been extradited from any of the European countries in the last 40 years.

HM: In this instance, though, I just want to be clear, no one is suggesting anymore this particular attack was related to the PKK. We heard perhaps it might have been Kurdish fighters.

EB: This particular attack is not related to PKK. But this is an approach on how to deal with terror, and we have to have solidarity among allies. That's what we need.

HM: There's a lot of concern about the crackdown on human rights in Turkey right now, though. What do you say to those countries that are concerned about it?

EB: That is your approach. I don't believe in it. I think human rights issues in Turkey are not as bad as they are reported in the Western media. My parliament was attacked. My city was burned down. I know that these terrorists are bloody and they're cruel. The only way to deal with terrorism is through determination.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Egemen Bağış.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.