The terrorist organization DHKP-C, responsible for a string of attacks and the bombing of the U.S. embassy, has once again emerged as a major threat after two of its members killed a prosecutor in Tuesday's hostage crisis at an Istanbul courthouse.
Turkey bade farewell yesterday to a prosecutor killed by two militants from the terrorist organization the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), who stormed his office in an Istanbul courthouse on Tuesday.
The incident was the latest episode in the terrorist organization's attacks, ranging from a suicide bombing at the U.S. embassy in 2013 and a string of assaults on security forces. Mehmet Selim Kiraz was in his sixth-floor office at the Çağlayan courthouse complex on Istanbul's European side when two gunmen entered on Tuesday morning. Soon, assailants released photos on social media showing one of them pointing a gun to Kiraz's head and listing a series of demands. Their motivation was apparently Kiraz's role as the prosecutor investigating the death of Berkin Elvan, a rioter who took part in the 2013 Gezi Park protests. Elvan died last year after 269 days in a coma induced by injuries he suffered when a tear gas canister fired by police hit him. The DHKP-C had adopted him as a symbol of its efforts to draw support for a violent campaign against the Turkish security forces. After hours of negotiations, the police's special forces unit stormed the room when gunshots were heard from inside. Two terrorists were killed, and Kiraz, already heavily injured when gunmen shot him multiple times before the raid, succumbed to his wounds in hospital.
The government pledged a thorough investigation to capture any accomplices of the assailants. Meanwhile, early yesterday, police in the western cities of İzmir and Eskişehir and in the southern city of Antalya, rounded up supporters of the terrorist group. Anadolu Agency reported that 29 people were detained in the three cities.
On Tuesday night, supporters of the terrorist organization took to streets in Okmeydanı, where the courthouse and Berkin Elvan's neighborhood are located and in the Gazi neighborhood. Rioters clashed with police before they were dispersed by tear gas and water cannons.
The DHKP-C is an offshoot of a Marxist-Leninist movement that was established in the 1970s. The DHKP-C was founded in the 1990s after it splintered from a larger group of far-left organizations responsible for a string of attacks that include the assassination of two politicians in 1980, several intelligence officials and prominent businessman Özdemir Sabancı.
It kept a relatively low profile for many years. Additionally, its attacks were relatively minor compared to the PKK, another terrorist organization active in Turkey; however, the DHKP-C stepped up its attacks over the past two years. In 2013, a DHKP-C militant carried out a suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy compound in the capital, killing a Turkish security guard.
The DHKP-C also claimed responsibility for non-lethal rocket attacks targeting the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) headquarters, the Turkish National Police headquarters and a Justice Ministry building in Ankara in 2013. The group, designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU, advocates a far-left ideology. Moreover, its members do not have a homogenous ethnic background like the PKK, which mainly draws support from Kurds. The DHKP-C's power has significantly declined since the death of Dursun Karataş, one of its founding leaders, in 2008.
The terrorist organization is particularly active in Istanbul's working-class neighborhoods and at universities across the country where it recruits members among impressionable youth persuaded with a promise of a Marxist-Leninist revolution.
The background of Şafak Yayla and Bahtiyar Doğruyol, the two men who took the prosecutor hostage, is similar to those involved in the attacks in the past but Şafak Yayla's family ties are exceptional.
Şafak Yayla is the brother of Bulut Yayla, another DHKP-C member who was specifically designated as a terrorist by the U.S. State Department in 2013, after the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Ankara. He was detained in 2013 as he entered Turkey from Greece. He was planning to stage attacks against foreign missions when he was captured, according to officials. The older Yayla allegedly served as the head of the "youth branch" of the DHKP-C in Okmeydanı, where his brother carried out the attack on the prosecutor. Both were attending university when they joined the DHKP-C, and Şafak Yayla studied law.
Yayla, like the other assailant Bahtiyar Doğruyol, was detained in an operation against the DHKP-C. Both men stayed in the same prison and reportedly became close while serving their brief sentences. Yayla was released in December 2014, while Doğruyol was released one year earlier. Şafak Yayla was reportedly planning to carry out a suicide bombing when he was captured, according to Turkish media. Doğruyol was apprehended while traveling to Greece via Edirne in northwestern Turkey.
As with every terrorist organization, conspiracy theories abound concerning the DHKP-C, with allegations that the group was used as a "tool" by intelligence services, both local and foreign, in the past, to conduct attacks to serve their interests.
The organization claimed responsibility for two attacks this year. A foiled attempt to attack security guards outside Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul was followed by a militant shooting at police officers in Istanbul's Taksim Square in January. No one was injured in the attacks. Last week's attack on the offices of a magazine, which killed one writer and wounded three others, was also blamed on an affiliate of the organization – though it did not claim responsibility through Halkın Sesi (The Voice of the People), a Twitter account where the group's members generally announce their attacks.
Apart from outright terror attacks, the organization also looks to make a name for itself by exploiting protests such as the Gezi Park incidents of 2013. It was common to see shotgun and pistol-wielding members of the DHKP-C roaming the streets, especially in working-class neighborhoods where it recruits supporters, during the protests and subsequent rallies last year under the pretext of commemorating rioters who died during protests.
A funeral was held for the prosecutor yesterday. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was among the large crowd attending the funeral prayers at Istanbul's Eyüp Sultan Mosque while condolences poured in for Kiraz. His tearful colleagues held a farewell ceremony at the courthouse where he was killed.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cut short his Romania visit to travel home yesterday evening and said at a press conference that he would visit the grieving family of the late prosecutor.