Turkey 2012 Crime & Safety Report: Istanbul
Threats; Surveillance; Stolen items; Left-wing; Nationalist; Religious Terrorism; Separatist violence; Earthquakes; Improvised Explosive Device; Assault; Theft; Anti-American sentiment
Europe > Turkey > Ankara; Europe > Turkey > Istanbul
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists safely visit or reside in Istanbul by using common sense and good judgment.
Istanbul's overall crime rate remains lower than that of other cities of comparable size. While the majority of crime is non-violent in nature, both the level of crime and aggressiveness of criminals remains a concern. Criminal incidents involving foreigners tend to be concentrated in tourist areas, such as Taksim Square, Istiklal Caddesi, Sultanahmet, and the Grand Bazaar.
Do not leave valuables in your automobile in plain view. Valuables have been stolen from vehicles stopped in traffic or at controlled intersections, although this occurs infrequently.
Traffic and the threat of accidents provide a daily challenge for anyone living in or visiting Istanbul. Drivers are aggressive and frequently ignore basic traffic regulations by driving through red lights and stop signs or by turning left from the far right lane. Pedestrians do not have the right of way, and extreme caution should be exercised when crossing streets.
Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime
The threat of terrorism in Istanbul from both transnational and indigenous groups remains high. Terrorist groups in Istanbul are numerous, organized, and active. In general, terrorist groups in Istanbul can be separated into three categories: Leftists, Kurdish separatists, and Islamic Radicals.
Leftist groups--such as the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C, formerly Dev Sol) and MLKP (Marxist-Leninist Community Party)--are anti-Western and anti-American. In the 1980s and early 1990s, DHKP/C was responsible for attacks against the U.S. Consulate and American citizens and businesses. The Turkish National Police have had success in combating, although not eliminating, this threat. In March 2008, Turkish authorities disrupted a suspected DHPK/C cell. During the raid, police uncovered evidence that indicated the group may have been plotting to target U.S. companies in Istanbul. In November 2010, individuals affiliated with DHKP/C were responsible for Molotov cocktail attacks against U.S. businesses in Istanbul in commemoration of the December 19, 2000 military action in several Turkish prisons that resulted in the deaths of several DHKP/C members. Subsequent TNP actions disrupted many DHKP/C cells in Istanbul; however, the group is still active.
Kurdish separatists are primarily represented by the Kurdish Worker's Party (PKK, KADEK, Kongra Gel). The PKK has avoided directing its terror campaign against American citizens and facilities. However, splinter organizations and affiliates, such as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), which formed after the 1999 capture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, have repeatedly warned foreign tourists not to visit Turkey. Consistent with its threats, TAK claimed responsibility for several attacks in 2005 and 2006 that targeted tourist areas in Turkey, including Istanbul. Kurdish separatist groups are believed to be responsible for the June 2010 bombings that targeted Turkish National Police and Turkish military targets, as well as the Taksim Square bombing of October 2010, which also targeted Turkish National Police.
Radically, pro-Islamic groups--such as al-Qa’ida and Great Eastern Islamic Raiders Front (IBDA-C)-- pose a possible threat to Americans in Istanbul.
Indigenous and international terrorist groups operate in Turkey, including in Istanbul. The detonation of "sound bombs" (devices intended to make a loud noise but not to cause damage or injury) by indigenous terrorist groups is a common occurrence throughout Turkey. The majority of indigenous terror groups, with the exception of DHKP/C, do not target Americans.
• In May 2011, a bomb exploded at a bus stop in Etiler, an upscale neighborhood of Istanbul, injuring eight.
• In November 2011, a commuter ferry traveling near Izmit was hijacked by an individual claiming to have explosives. Turkish security forces killed the attacker in a raid.
• In October 2010, a suicide bomber targeted a Turkish National Police post in Taksim Square, resulting in the death of the bomber and dozens wounded.
• In June 2010, two roadside bomb attacks, one on a police bus and one on a contract bus with Turkish military passengers, caused many casualties including at least eight deaths; the PKK-affiliated group TAK claimed responsibility.
• A July 2008 bombing in the Gungoren neighborhood killed 17 Turkish citizens.
• In July 2008, the U.S. Consulate Istanbul was attacked. Three Turkish police officers were killed, and two were wounded. Three attackers were killed; one had visited Afghanistan, but no direct link has been made to any larger terrorist group. Whether the attack was planned and conducted by al-Qa’ida-affiliated groups, purely local elements, or individuals who may have been foreign fighters, the attack highlights that Western interests are potential targets in Turkey.
Small-scale bombings, violent demonstrations, and vehicle arson have occurred regularly in Istanbul since 2006, but most of these incidents have happened in neighborhoods not generally frequented by tourists.
International Terrorism or Transnational Terrorism
In the aftermath of the November 2003 Istanbul bombings, police discovered that al-Qa’ida and other international terrorist groups have recruited in Turkey for possible terrorist actions.
Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi, two areas frequented by tourists, are often the venue for demonstrations. While demonstrations in Istanbul are usually peaceful, their potential to escalate into political violence should not be underestimated. In the past, Labor Day (May 1) events have resulted in clashes between the police and workers who are normally banned from demonstrating in Taksim Square on May 1. However in 2010 and 2011, the workers were allowed to assemble in Taksim Square for May Day celebrations, and there were no incidents. Travelers and residents of Istanbul are advised to avoid participating, observing, or driving in the vicinity of political demonstrations.
Istanbul sits on the North Anatolian fault line, and it is very susceptible to earthquakes. In August 1999, a massive 7.2 earthquake occurred 60 miles east of Istanbul. The resulting damage highlighted the vulnerability of Istanbul and its structures. Most buildings in the city do not comply with Western earthquake standards and would likely sustain heavy damage in the event of a significant quake. Members of OSAC are encouraged to consider this threat when identifying property to occupy.
If you are the victim of a crime, immediately report it to the police. In the event you are arrested or detained by the authorities in Istanbul, immediately contact the U.S. Consulate at 212-335-9000 and follow the prompts.
The country-wide number for emergency medical ambulance service is 112. Most emergency rooms in Istanbul have physicians who speak English.
The American Hospital is a full-service hospital. Its emergency care unit is equipped to deal with most medical needs.
Address: 20 Güzelbahçe Sokak, 80200 Nisantasi, Istanbul
Tel: (212) 311-2000
Trauma Level III Total Beds: 135
Acibadem Maslak Hospital is a member of a chain of hospitals located throughout Turkey. Its emergency care unit is equipped to deal with most medical needs.
Buyukdere Cad. No: 40
Tel: (212) 304-4444
Trauma Level III Total Beds: 200
Florence Nightingale Hospital Gayretepe is a member of a chain of hospitals and clinics in Istanbul. All medical specialties are available.
Cemil Aslan Guder Sok, No:8
Tel: (212) 288-3400
While there have been only a few confirmed cases of avian influenza (AI) in eastern Turkey, American visitors are encouraged to read and follow the AI guidance available through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Department of State’s Avian Influenza Fact Sheet available at www.travel.state.gov.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Turkish law dictates behavior toward Turkish political figures and institutions, particularly the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It is a crime to insult or to deface statues and images of Ataturk and the Turkish flag, including its use on clothing. Turkish authorities enforce these laws vigorously.
Tourists, as in most places in the world, continue to be a favorite target of criminals. Using good judgment and common sense will go a long way in helping ensure you do not become a victim of a crime in Istanbul. Tourists should be particularly cautious while visiting tourist areas such as Istiklal Caddesi, Taksim Square, Sultanahmet, Galata Bridge, and the Grand Bazaar.
Pick-pocketing in tourist areas is common. Be alert and aware of your surroundings, and be on the lookout for common tactics used by criminals in Istanbul. One such tactic involves a diversion, such as a fist fight or argument. As the victim directs his or her attention to the staged event, another subject approaches from behind and steals a wallet or purse. If you witness such an event, protect your belongings and leave the area.
Men should secure their wallets and carry only a limited amount of money placed in various locations on their person. Women should secure their purses close to their body while walking and when they put it down at restaurants and other venues. As a precaution, carry only what cash and valuables are needed. Keep a photocopy of your passport with you, and keep the original in your hotel, preferably in a safe-deposit box.
Avoid speaking with strangers on the street. Conversations can be a prelude to a criminal act. A common scam in Istanbul involves the victim being approached by an individual on the street who tries to engage him in conversation. The suspect may invite an unsuspecting visitor to a bar or cafe. The suspect may drug the victim through food or drink and rob him after helping him back to his hotel or to a cab. Another scenario results in the suspect taking the victim to a "family" bar or restaurant. Once the victim enters, drinks are served and women appear. The victim is then served with an exorbitant bar bill, often in excess of $1,000. If the victim refuses to pay, he is threatened with violence and held until he pays the bill or a significant portion of it. Travelers can avoid these scams by exercising caution and good judgment when approached by strangers. Such scams are common in the Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi area. Police have been ineffective in combating these crimes.
Caution should be used while using public transportation. Trams are a favorite location for pick-pocketers.
Although taxis are plentiful and the majority of drivers are honest, overcharging by taxi drivers, particularly by those parked near popular tourist areas such as the Grand Bazaar and the Sultanahmet district, has been reported. Another reported scam targets people who are returning to their residence from the airport in a cab. As the victim returns home, he or she is approached by a number of young people (the groups have been described as being both male and female and ranging in age). The young people offer to help the subject with their luggage and subsequently abscond with some piece of it. Police authorities suspect that the cab drivers may be involved in the scam. Also, pay attention to what denomination of bill you are using to pay for the fare, as there have been reports of taxi drivers switching money and claiming you gave a smaller denomination than what you thought had occurred.
Only utilize taxis with meters, sit in the back seat, and utilize the seat belt if it can be found. Do not accept food or drink from the driver and practice good security by automatically recording the license or number of any taxi you enter. Any improper actions on the part of a taxi driver can be reported to the Tourist Police or by contacting the Istanbul Chamber of Commercial Drivers (Istanbul Sofoler Esnaf Odasi, Ibrahim Karaoglanoglu Caddesi, No: 3 Oto Sanayi Seyrantepe, Istanbul, telephone number 0212-272-2572 or fax 0212-272-6160).
The U.S. Consulate General Istanbul stands ready to assist American citizens and businesses in Istanbul. The Consulate is located at Kaplicalar Mevkii Sok. No: 2, Istinye, telephone number 90-212-335-9000.
Americans living or traveling in Turkey are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website at https://travelregistration.state.gov or directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in the case of an emergency.
OSAC Country Council
Istanbul has an active OSAC Country Council. For more information on the Country Council please email OsacIstanbul@state.gov.