ISTANBUL Long before al-Qaida, when the Cold War gripped the world, leftist terrorists staged spectacular attacks in a doomed campaign to overthrow governments and impose their vision of a socialist utopia. The bulk of these extremist groups eventually drifted into oblivion, gutted by police pressure, internal rifts and an ideology undercut by communisms fall.
In Turkey, one cult-like group didnt get the memo.
Decades on, a band of outlaws wedded to this antique brand of militancy has been blamed for a suicide bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara that also killed a Turkish guard and seriously wounded a television journalist, the latest in a grim sequence of bombings and assassinations that failed, over and over, to bring the triggermen closer to their revolutionary goals.
Some analysts have speculated that the Revolutionary Peoples Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C, carried out Fridays attack in anger at NATO member Turkeys cooperation with Washington, the old imperialist nemesis of leftist radicals everywhere, in efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. The consensus is that the group is a throwback, deaf to historical shifts and political nuance, almost a novelty if it werent so deadly.
Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at St. Lawrence University in the United States, said the group is trapped in an ideological time warp and falls outside of our comfortable narratives, meaning actions such as the embassy bombing might have only a glancing connection with wider, contemporary events and trends.
Theyve cut themselves off from the wider society and theyre talking to each other in a soundproof box that allows them to think of themselves as having more connections to public aspirations, Eissenstat said. He wryly observed that the groups clunky name and Turkish acronym, rather a mouthful, are emblematic of just how out of touch it is with the modern, message-conscious world.
The groups flags include the hammer and sickle and red star designs, which date from the Russian revolutionary era in the early 20th century.
The DHKP-C claimed responsibility for the embassy attack in a statement posted on a website linked to the group, saying bomber Ecevit Sanli carried out the act of self-sacrifice. The group called itself immortal and said, Down with imperialism and the collaborating oligarchy. But it gave no reason for attacking the U.S. Embassy.
How is it that groups like Germanys Baader-Meinhof gang and the Red Brigades of Italy became extinct while the DHKP-C clung to its quixotic mission, even if it has been relatively quiet in recent years?
The reason may lie in Turkeys polarized history: big battles between left- and right-wing cadres in the 1970s that subsided after a military coup, virulent anti-Americanism that reached a peak around the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the loose interplay among Kurdish and other militant groups, and lingering suspicions about alleged reactionaries embedded deep in the old state apparatus.
Turkey today is a rising power with a far more stable political landscape, a robust economy that allows it to project soft power beyond its borders and a bid to join the European Union that, while stalled, still represents its outsized ambitions.
The Turks will take this to some degree as a slap in the face because theyll feel that things like this shouldnt happen in their country, James F. Jeffrey, U.S. ambassador in Turkey between 2008 and 2010, said of the embassy attack.
The story of the bomber, 40-year-old Sanli, personalizes a besieged yet hardened group that still apparently finds recruits in urban centers and, according to Turkish officials, collects funds from sympathizers in Europe, where there are large ethnic Turkish communities.
Officials said Sanli had used 13.2 pounds of TNT for the suicide attack and also detonated a hand grenade.
Some Turkish officials have linked the attack to the arrest last month of dozens of suspected members of the DHKP-C group, including some lawyers.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the bombing was related to U.S. support for Turkeys harsh criticism of the regime in Syria, whose civil war has forced tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to seek shelter in Turkey. NATO has deployed six Patriot anti-missile systems to protect Turkey from a possible spillover of the violence. The United States, Netherlands and Germany are each providing two Patriot batteries.
Nihat Ali Ozcan, a terrorism expert at the Ankara-based Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey, said the Syrian regime, which had backed terrorist groups in Turkey, including autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels, during the Cold War and the 1990s, recently revived ties with these groups.
Eissenstat, the American analyst, was skeptical that the Syrian regime would direct DHKP-C attacks, let alone risk a heavy price for targeting American interests.
If Syria wants to poke Turkey in the eye, theyre not going to do it through these guys, theyre going to do it through Kurdish groups, he said. If youre Syrian intelligence, the last thing you want to do is stir up the Americans.
DHKP-Cs forerunner, Devrimci Sol, or Revolutionary Left, was formed in 1978 as a Marxist group openly opposed to the United States and NATO. Attacks included the killing of several Americans, including a retired U.S. Air Force officer.
The group, designated as a terrorist organization by the West, changed its name to DHKP-C in 1994. Two years later, its militants shot dead prominent Turkish industrialist Ozdemir Sabanci and two aides in his office.
Fridays bombing was the second deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic post in five months. On Sept. 11, 2012, terrorists attacked a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The attackers in Libya were suspected to have ties to Islamist extremists, and one is in custody in Egypt.
U.S. diplomatic facilities in Turkey have been targeted previously by terrorists. In 2008, an attack blamed on al-Qaida-affiliated militants outside the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul left three assailants and three policemen dead.
Sadik Sanli, the embassy bombers father, said he hadnt heard from his son in 15 years and that he fought the state out of ignorance.
What can I do? the father told Turkeys Anadolu agency. He threw himself into the fire. He burned himself as well as me.
Associated Press writers Suzan Fraser and Ezgi Akin in Ankara contributed.