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JULY 15, 2005

Turkish terrorism and F1

A slightly worrying story has been reported by the Turkish Ikhlas news agency which quotes Turkish security sources as saying that 15 barrels of suspect materials were discovered in a field not far from the Istanbul Otodrom racing circuit, which will host the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix in August. The authorities told the news agency that the barrels of had been found 2.5 miles from the circuit but it is not clear exactly what was in them nor where they were located. However, the security in Turkey is such that the site was sealed off and samples of the materials were sent to a laboratory for analysis. It may turn out to be nothing but for the moment the authorities have not said that the materials were not explosive.

The discovery comes just a few days after a bomb blast injured 20 tourists in the Aegean resort of Cesme, among them a Briton and a Russian. The bomb was small and hidden in a dustbin, was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (KFF), a group authorities associate with the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The KFF has threatened more attacks in tourist areas in the hope that it can intimidate foreigners and thus damage the Turkish economy.

The terrorists have been very active since June last year when a truce which had lasted for five years was called off, with the Kurds blaming the Turkish government for not making sufficient reforms. The Cesme bomb came just days after an attack on a train in the east of the country which left six dead. The KFF was behind a blast in April in the resort of Kusadasi, which killed a policeman, and has also been blamed for the bombing of two hotels in Istanbul in August last year which killed another person. A third bomb at the same time was aimed at rupturing fuel storage tanks but failed to set off the tanks.

Turkish tourism is booming despite the KFF attacks and an al-Qaeda attack in November 2003 which killed 60 people, including the British Consul.

The Grand Prix is designed to provide a major boost to Turkish tourism. The track has a spectator capacity of 130,000 people and while security will be tight for the race, there is always a danger of attacks on approach roads.