Turkey Detains Two More Suspects Over U.S. Embassy Shooting

Two more people have been detained by Turkish Police on Sunday, August 26th for suspected ties to the recent drive-by shooting at the U.S. embassy. The shooting took place on Monday, August 20th at the U.S. Embassy’s Security office in the Turkish capital of Ankara. Six rounds were fired from a moving vehicle, but there were no casualties. On Tuesday, two other men in their 30s were arrested and confessed to the shooting, but Turkish police continued their search for culprits, which lead to the arrests this past Sunday. The shooting is believed to be tied to a deepening rift between Washington and Ankara that stems from the trial of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. evangelical pastor who was recently released from prison in Turkey, although he remains under house arrest. According to Aljazeera, these tensions have further increased as the U.S. has begun to raise tariffs and increase sanctions.

In an interview with Aljazeera, an official in Turkey’s Ruling Justice and Development Party called the shooting a “clear provocation,” and Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin called the attack “an attempt to create chaos.” These statements paint the attack as a warning to U.S. officials, as animosity between the two nations builds.

Despite the fact that the U.S. embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul have often served as a target during political unrest, the attack appears to be related to the trial of U.S. Christian pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson’s daughter stated in an interview with NBC news that her father is “a pawn in a political game between Turkey and the U.S.” Brunson had been living in Turkey for the past 23 years and running the Resurrection Church in Izmir, before being arrested in October 2016 for his involvement in the failed coup in 2016 and alleged ties to the CIA. However, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted shortly after Brunson’s arrest that “we have seen no credible evidence against Mr. Brunson,” and believes Brunson was imprisoned under false pretenses. President Trump shared similar sentiments in his tweet on July 18th, stating that it was “a total disgrace that Turkey will not release a respected U.S. Pastor, Andrew Brunson, from prison…He has done nothing wrong, and his family needs him.” Two days before this tweet, Trump and Turkish PresidentRecep Tayyip Erdogan had a phone call to discuss working together to withdraw Kurdish fighters from Syria. NBC news states that the two seemed committed to improving ties before the trial began.

All of this progress seemed to revert after the delayed release of Brunson. When a deal on Brunson’s imprisonment hadn’t been reached, the U.S. began implementing higher tariffs and decreasing the worth of the Turkish lira as compared to the American dollar. According to Aljazeera, the lira currency value declined 40 percent against the dollar since the start of this year. The U.S. also passed a bill in May that kept Turkey from buying F-35 fighter jets, turning the effects of Brunson’s case into something more than political.

Brunson was not the only one who had been imprisoned during the failed coup. According to the U.N. Human Rights Office, about 160,000 people were detained after the failed uprising. A U.S. official told NBC News that there was a “small handful” of U.S. citizens in detention after the attempted government overthrow. This coup was said to be the outcome of recent investigations regarding the presence of Gulenists in the Turkish government who were exposing corruption allegations within President Erdogan’s inner circle. Erdogan blamed political enemies for this uprising saying, “what is being perpetrated is a rebellion and a treason. They will pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey.” Many did pay this price as this coup left 200 dead and 104 people facing life sentences according to the NY Times. Interestingly, the reason the coup seemed to fail, was because of the numerous Turkish citizens who condemned the coup and praised President Erdogan’s democratic policies.

Turkey should have released Brunson as soon as it was clear that word of his innocence was reliable; however, the two nations should work harder to reestablish each other as allies instead of enemies over the trial of one man. The trials of the other 160,000 military, civil servants, educators, academics, dissidents and journalists who were detained after the coup also deserve attention as many remain in prison for trying to expose corruption. Trump’s reaction to Brunson’s jailing was unprofessional, and he should have spoken with Erdogan to try and reach agreement on Brunson’s status before tweeting harsh statements. The two nations are vital NATO allies and should work to maintain a peaceful partnership not only for political reasons, but to help reduce the possibility of more attacks on U.S. influences in Turkey.

Isabel Slingerland