Travel Alert Status
Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution
Safety and Security
There have been violent attacks throughout Turkey, and there is a continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout Turkey. Terrorist bombings over the past several years have hit various targets in Turkey, with some causing significant numbers of casualties. Some attacks – including a suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on February 1, 2013, carried out by the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C is an indigenous terrorist organization) – are deliberately targeted U.S. and Western interests. In July 2011, 15 terrorists claiming association with al-Qaida were arrested for gathering explosive materials in preparation for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. These incidents show a willingness on the part of some terrorist groups to attack identifiably Western targets. The possibility of terrorist attacks, from both transnational and indigenous groups, remains high.
The Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (Devrimci Halk Kurtulus Partisi/Cephesi or DHKP/C) claimed responsibility for the February 1, Embassy attack. Designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 1997, the DHKP/C is an indigenous organization to Turkey and has existed since the 1970s with networks throughout Europe, The DHKP/C has stated its intention to commit further attacks against the United States, NATO, and Turkey, though Turkish law enforcement actions have weakened the organization.
The Kurdistan People's Congress (also known as Kongra Gel or KGK; formerly the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK) is the most active terrorist organization in Turkey. Over the last few decades, PKK terrorist activity has been responsible for the deaths of more than 30,000 Turkish citizens. While this group has historically targeted Turkish government and military interests, it has recently been involved in peace negotiations with the Government of Turkey. Although clashes continue between Turkish security forces and the PKK in parts of Turkey, including outside of its usual operating area in the southeast, the level of activity is much lower than in recent years.
The threat from terrorist organizations can be elevated on days or dates deemed significant to that organization. The DHPK/C considers the period beginning with the group’s founding on March 30 and ending three weeks later as a period with several significant anniversary dates. Likewise, the November 27 anniversary of the founding of the PKK, the August 15 anniversary of the first PKK attack against the Turkish Government, the February 15 anniversary of the arrest of PKK’s founder, and the mid-March celebration of the Kurdish holiday of Nevruz stand out as dates with an elevated potential for terrorist action. Nevruz celebrations, generally held in cities and towns throughout southeastern Turkey and in other major cities in mid-March, have been combined with political rallies in the past, and have turned violent and involved clashes with police.
U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness; you should follow local news sources during your stay to remain abreast of any potential areas, dates, or times of concern, as well as registering with the STEP program.
Wherever you are in Turkey, do not accept letters, parcels, or other items from strangers for delivery either inside or outside of Turkey. The PKK has attempted to use foreigners to deliver messages and packages. Individuals acting or seen to be acting as "couriers" could be arrested for aiding and abetting the terrorist organization.
In addition to terrorist activities, there have been instances of religious violence targeting individuals in Turkey working as religious missionaries or viewed as having proselytized for a non-Islamic religion. Threats and actual instances of crime have targeted Christian and Jewish individuals, groups, and places of worship in Turkey, including several high-profile murders of Christians over the last decade. The level of anti-Israeli feeling remains significant following Israel's 2008 Gaza offensive. Turkish officials expressly said they excluded Jewish people, in Turkey and elsewhere, from their criticism of the Government of Israel in the wake of the intervention by Israeli Defense Forces on the Free Gaza Flotilla in May 2010.
While recent May Day (May 1) celebrations in Istanbul's Taksim Square have been peaceful, past May Day celebrations have resulted in violent clashes between police and workers, and should be avoided.
Exercise caution and good judgment, keep a low profile, and remain vigilant with regard to your personal security. Terrorists do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. As security is increased at official U.S. facilities, terrorists may seek softer targets. These may include facilities where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to live, congregate, shop, or visit. Be especially alert in such places.
International and domestic political issues sometimes trigger demonstrations in major cities in Turkey. Demonstrations can occur with little or no advance notice. However, even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable; they should be avoided. Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to what local news media say. Obey the instructions of Turkish security personnel at all times.
Ankara: On Friday, February 1, 2013, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at a side entrance to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, killing himself and one Embassy guard, and injuring several other people. The DHKP/C claimed responsibility for this suicide attack. In September 2011, a car bomb that was attributed to the PKK detonated in the downtown district of Kizilay, killing 3 and injuring 15. In July 2011, 15 people were arrested in conjunction with an al-Qa’ida plot to attack multiple sites in the capital, including the U.S. Embassy. In May 2007, a PKK suicide bomber in the downtown district of Ulus killed six and injured more than 100.
Istanbul: On February 28, 2013, the Turkish National Police (TNP) arrested several alleged al-Qaida members. In September 2012, a PKK suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device in the Sultangazi Police Department, killing one and injuring seven. In March 2012, a PKK suicide bomber detonated explosives alongside a riot police bus in the Sutluce District injuring 16 people, ten of whom were police. In May 2011, a bomb believed to have been placed by the PKK to target a nearby police facility exploded in a residential area, injuring eight. In June 2010, two roadside bomb attacks, one on a police bus and one on a contract bus with Turkish military passengers, caused many casualties, including at least eight deaths; the PKK-affiliated Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), claimed responsibility (see below). In October 2010, a suicide bomber struck a Turkish police bus in Taksim Square, injuring 15 Turkish police officers and 17 Turkish civilians. In 2008, there were three significant events starting with a bombing in July in the Güngören neighborhood that killed 17 Turkish citizens. In July 2008, a terrorist attack on the Turkish police guarding the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul resulted in the deaths of three police officers and the wounding of two other police personnel. Small-scale bombings, violent demonstrations and vehicle arson occur on a regular basis. Most of these incidents happened in neighborhoods not generally frequented by tourists.
Kastamonu: In May 2011, terrorists launched an attack on a convoy of election campaign vehicles belonging to the Prime Ministry, resulting in the death of one police officer.
Mediterranean/Aegean Regions: This region of Turkey has seen both traditional terrorist bombings against the Turkish Government designed to injure, and others designed to intimidate tourists. In August 2012, the PKK attacked a Turkish military bus near Foca using a roadside bomb resulting in ten casualties, including one death. In August 2011, a percussion bomb buried in the beach exploded and tourists were injured by flying rocks.
Eastern and Southeastern Provinces (including Adana): U.S. Government employees are subject to travel restrictions and require advance approval prior to official or unofficial travel to the provinces of Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Sirnak, Diyarbakir, Van, Siirt, Mus, Mardin, Batman, Bingöl, Tunceli, Hakkâri, Bitlis, and Elazig. U.S. military and Department of Defense civilians have additional restrictions and should consult their local area commander to obtain the latest travel guidance. Mount Ararat, in A%u011Fri province, is a special military zone and access permission must be obtained from the Turkish Government through a Turkish embassy or consulate before coming to Turkey. In July 2008, three German tourists were kidnapped by armed PKK militants while camping on Mt. Ararat with their 13-member climbing team. U.S. citizens traveling in southeastern Turkey, as well as to Mt. Ararat should exercise extreme caution.
In addition to the well-known longstanding threat from PKK terrorists, other violent extremists have transited Turkey en route to Syria. Therefore, we recommend that U.S. citizens take precaution in any meetings with individuals claiming to represent the Syrian opposition movement.
The Embassy strongly recommends avoiding areas in close proximity to the Syrian border, where the ongoing conflict in Syria could pose a danger for U.S. citizen travelers. Turkish towns located along the border with Syria have also been struck by bullets and artillery rounds that originate in Syria, some resulting in deaths or injuries. On October 3, 2012, a mortar round from Syria landed in the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing five Turkish citizens. On February 11, 2013, a car bomb exploded at the Turkish/Syrian border crossing at Cilvegozu in Hatay province, killing 14 people and injuring 25. Travelers are specifically advised not to photograph Turkish military operations or installations near the Syrian border or anywhere in Turkey. On March 1, 2013, the U.S. Department of State updated the Travel Warning for Syria. This travel warning remains in effect. The U.S. Embassy in Damascus closed in February 2012.
The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens that the situation in southeast Turkey, while usually calm, can change without warning.
In May 2012 in Kayseri province, two PKK terrorists detonated a car bomb in front of the police station in Pinarbasi resulting in the death of one police officer and injuring 17 other civilians among them. On October 2011, during a pro-PKK rally in Adana, an improvised explosive device was detonated and six police officers and three civilians were seriously wounded. In June 2010, an assailant shot at a U.S. citizen in Adana. Reports indicate that extremists initiated the attack based solely on his U.S. citizenship and the fact that he resides in Turkey. In January 2010, the U.S. Consulate in Adana was fired upon during nighttime hours, although there are indications the Turkish police standing guard outside may have been the actual targets. There have been anti-U.S. demonstrations and efforts by some groups to encourage the departure of U.S. Air Force personnel from Incirlik Air Base, just outside Adana.
Turkish police regularly mount major operations against the PKK and other terrorist cells throughout the southeastern provinces. Operations have been launched to prevent what were believed to be imminent terrorist attacks, as well as to cripple terrorist cells' fundraising and recruiting capabilities. Some disrupted cells have had strong links to al-Qa’ida. The PKK conducts operations primarily focused on security personnel throughout southeastern Turkey; occasionally attacks injure or kill civilians. Travel is difficult and should be considered dangerous in some portions of this region.
Roadside explosions caused by remote-controlled land mines or other improvised explosive devices have occurred several times in the past year in the Batman, Sirnak, Hakkâri, Siirt, Mardin, Diyarbakir, and Tunceli provinces, as have small-scale attacks with Molotov cocktails and other home-made weapons. These attacks usually target Turkish military or police personnel, but occasionally harm innocent bystanders. Attacks are more frequent before major political events and anniversaries associated with the PKK terrorist movement. Small "sound bombs,” producing only loud noise, are frequent events throughout the region. There have also been a number of PKK raids on Jandarma (rural police) posts and ambushes of Turkish security force vehicle patrols in many of Turkey's rural southeastern areas. In January 2008, a PKK remote-controlled car bomb killed seven people and injured 66 when it exploded on a street in downtown Diyarbakir. In June 2007, the Turkish General Staff declared parts of the southeastern provinces of Sirnak, Hakkâri, and Siirt as "sensitive areas" due to ongoing counter-insurgency operations carried out by Turkish military forces. Access to these areas, mostly along the Iraqi border, is controlled by the security forces.
Use commercial air travel whenever possible while traveling to southeastern Turkey. If road travel is necessary, drive only during daylight hours and on major highways. The Turkish Jandarma and police forces monitor checkpoints on roads throughout the southeastern region. You should cooperate if stopped at any checkpoint. Be prepared to provide identification and vehicle registration if stopped. At these checkpoints, roll down the driver's side window (the passenger side also, in vehicles with tinted windows) when stopped by security force officials. Security forces can then safely inspect the vehicle and its occupants. Remain calm, do not make any sudden movements, and obey all instructions immediately. Security officials may restrict access to some roads at times, and security force escort vehicles may be required to "convoy" visitors through troublesome areas. In some cases, this must be arranged in advance. We strongly discourage the use of public transportation at any time in the southeastern region.