France – On March 20, the jihadist militant organization al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed that it had beheaded Philippe Verdon, a French national it had taken hostage. Verdon had been held hostage by the group for approximately fourteen months. AQIM claimed that it had murdered Verdon in retaliation for the French government’s war in Mali. It is reported that there are at least fourteen French hostages being held by AQIM throughout West Africa. A spokesman for AQIM stated that French President Francois Hollande is responsible for all hostages held by the group.
On March 30, it was reported that the Eiffel Tower in Paris had to be evacuated after a telephone threat was given stating that an explosive device had been planted somewhere on the popular tourist destination. The threat, which was given from a phone booth, stated that the device would explode at 21:30 hours. As of the present, no one has claimed responsibility, although it is believed that the threat was given as a result of France’s intervention in Mali. The warning is unusual as jihadist militants have not been known to issue warnings of this nature in the past. Due to this, the threat against the Eiffel Tower is most likely not the work of a jihadist militant organization.
Turkey – On March 19, a rocket and two hand grenades were fired and thrown at the Turkish Ministry of Justice and a headquarters of the ruling AK party in Ankara. These attacks could have been a result of the arrests of eleven al-Qaeda members on February 27 by Turkish security forces, or by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). It is likely that if the attacks were conducted by al-Qaeda, they were also intended for propaganda purposes and as a means to state that in spite of the arrests, al-Qaeda can at any time attack Turkey’s government and security forces.
On March 21, Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), announced a new ceasefire with the Turkish government that coincided with Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year. Ocalan stated that politics, and not fighting, should prevail. The Turkish government responded by stating that if attacks against Turkish military targets stopped, then Turkey’s military would not conduct operations. This is not the first time that a ceasefire has been called between the PKK and the Turkish government. The Kurds in Iraq have their own autonomous region, which only occurred following talks with the Iraqi Interim Government in 2004. Ocalan may believe that a similar tactic will work with Ankara towards establishing greater Kurdish autonomy in Turkey.
The PKK is a leftist Kurdish nationalist organization. The PKK was founded in 1974 by a group of Turkish students of ethnic Kurdish descent who were active in communist circles within Turkey. The group, led by Abdullah Ocalan, operated informally until 1978, when it formalized its agenda. Influenced heavily by Maoist doctrine, the PKK's goal was to incite a revolution that would free the Kurdish people and establish an independent Kurdish state. When it was founded, the group was violently opposed to the Turkish government, believing that a Kurdish state could only be established if the oppressive and colonialist Turkish government was defeated. In 1999, the PKK's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, was arrested in Kenya and extradited to Turkey where he faced the death penalty on terrorism charges. Ocalan was convicted and sentenced to death, although Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2002, and his sentence was subsequently changed to life imprisonment.
Paul Ashley is the Senior Counter-Terrorist Analyst at 361 Security