US orders evacuation of Istanbul diplomatic staff families

The U.S. consulate building in Istanbul, Turkey © Yagiz Karahan
The US State Department has ordered the families of American diplomats in Istanbul, Turkey, to leave due to an increased risk of terrorism following extremists’ threats to “kidnap and assassinate Westerners and US citizens.”

Family members of personnel stationed at the US Consulate General in Istanbul have been asked to leave because the State Department’s security assessment deems it unsafe for them to stay.

“The Department of State made this decision based on security information indicating extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to attack US citizens in areas of Istanbul where they reside or frequent,” the Turkey travel warning states. “This order applies only to the US Consulate General in Istanbul, not to other US diplomatic posts in Turkey.”

While the consulate remains open and fully operational, Washington is urging US citizens to avoid travel to southeast Turkey and “carefully consider the risks” of traveling throughout the country.

The diplomats continue to monitor the security situation on the ground in the wake of recent terrorist incidents in Ankara, Istanbul, Gaziantep, and throughout the southeast of the country, where Turkish armed forces continue to engage Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants.

“Recurring threats; visible increases in police or military activities; and the potential for restrictions on movement as they relate to the safety and well-being of US citizens in Turkey. Delays or denial of consular access to US citizens detained or arrested by security forces, some of whom also possess Turkish citizenship, continue,” the warning reads.

The State Department notes that “international and indigenous terrorist organizations” in Turkey over recent years have targeted foreigners at major events, tourist sites, or restaurants, warning Americans that such threat still exists.

“Extremists have also threatened to kidnap and assassinate Westerners and US citizens. US citizens are reminded to review personal security plans, monitor local news for breaking events, and remain vigilant at all times,” the State Department said.

Citing a series of terrorist attacks on the border with Syria, US citizens are urged to defer travel to large, urban centers near the Turkish-Syrian border. In addition, Washington reminded its citizens that the Syrian border with Turkey is closed, offering guidance for US citizens in need of medical aid.

“Border crossings from Syria into Turkey are prohibited, even if the traveler entered Syria from Turkey. Individuals seeking emergency medical treatment or safety from immediate danger are assessed on a case by case basis,” the bulletin said.

The travel warning, issued Saturday, updates a warning last week of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey.