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Country Reports on Terrorism 2021: Türkiye

Türkiye experienced a significant decrease in terrorist incidents within its borders in 2021, compared with prior years. However, it has expanded its counterterrorism operations in Iraq and Syria and provided counterterrorism support to Somalia. Media reported that Turkish airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq resulted in civilian casualties, including children. Türkiye also has continued its active counterterrorism cooperation with the international community as a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, the Global Counterterrorism Forum, and the Committee of Experts on Terrorism of the Council of Europe. Active as a co-chair of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s FTF Working Group, Türkiye also provided access to its airspace and facilities for coalition counterterrorism operations in Iraq and Syria.

Türkiye remains a transit point for FTFs departing Syria and Iraq. Domestically, Türkiye confronts terrorist organizations, including the PKK, ISIS, and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C), all active both inside the country and along its borders. The nation also views the Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S. partner in the counter-ISIS campaign, as a branch of the PKK terrorist group, and this remained a significant point of friction with the United States. Notably, Türkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization; the U.S.-designated group maintains offices in Istanbul, and Hamas’ political chief, Ismail Haniyeh, has met with Turkish President Erdogan.

In the aftermath of the 2016 coup attempt, the Government of Türkiye labeled the movement of self-exiled cleric and political figure Fethullah Gulen as the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (“FETO”). FETO (the Gulen movement) is not a designated terrorist organization in the United States. Türkiye continues to detain and arrest Turkish citizens — including locally employed staff at the U.S. Mission to Türkiye — and foreign citizens residing in Türkiye for alleged Gulen or terrorism-related links, often based on scant evidence and minimal due process. The Government of Türkiye also continued to dismiss military, security, and civil servants from public office in 2021. Since the failed coup, the Government of Türkiye has conducted 135,916 Gulen-related operations, arrested 312,121 citizens, dismissed or suspended more than 125,000 civil servants from public office, and closed more than 1,500 NGOs for alleged Gulen movement links. Politically motivated detentions and arrests of individuals — including journalists, human rights activists, lawyers, and politicians accused of supporting or aiding either the PKK or the Gulen movement — under antiterror and other laws continued in 2021.

2021 Terrorist Incidents: Terrorist incidents included the following:

  • In February, the PKK killed 13 Turkish soldiers and police officers (originally kidnapped in Türkiye) during a botched hostage rescue attempt by Turkish military forces in Gara, northern Iraq. In retaliation, Türkiye launched Operation Tiger Claw 2 in northern Iraq, killing 48 alleged PKK members.

  • In April, a PKK attack killed one Turkish soldier involved in a counter-PKK operation in Türkiye’s eastern Siirt Province.

  • In October, a PKK-planted roadside IED exploded, killing two electricity company workers in Türkiye’s eastern Bingöl Province.

  • In December, a PKK attack killed three Turkish soldiers during operations close to Türkiye’s border in northern Iraq.

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