The threat was described as "credible"
The State Department ordered US families to leave
The State Department announcement over the weekend that it was ordering civilian families of US personnel at the Istanbul consulate to leave Turkey was prompted by a credible ISIS-related threat against Americans in the country, two senior department officials said.
The officials said that while the Turks had stepped up their law-enforcement efforts, the US was still concerned and wanted to reduce the exposure of Americans.
One official said the threat was “credible, yet general enough” to take the rare precaution of ordering families to leave.
“We weren’t satisfied that a particular threat stream had been disrupted,” the other official said, adding that the threat was coming from “Daesh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS) or fellow travelers on that extremist end.”
The warning goes beyond the one issued last week that urged Americans to avoid traveling to southeast Turkey, especially urban centers near the Turkish-Syrian border, because of recent terrorist attacks.
One US official with direct information about the threat called it “extraordinarily specific.”
The State Department didn’t say how many family members would be affected by the Saturday evacuation order. The warning said that the consulate remains open and fully staffed and that the order does not apply to other diplomatic posts in Turkey.
On Saturday, the State Department issued a strong warning to US citizens about the threat in Turkey.
“Attacks in Turkey at major events, tourist sites, restaurants, commercial centers, places of worship, and transportation hubs, including aviation services, metros, buses, bridges, bus terminals and sea transport, could occur,” the warning said. “Extremists have also threatened to kidnap and assassinate Westerners and US citizens.”
With little notice, the State Department announced the decision to order the departure of family members of employees posted to its consulate in Istanbul, saying it “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.”
Turkey has become increasingly volatile in the past year because of terrorist attacks at home and its involvement in the Syrian civil war.
ISIS is suspected in a June attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that left 44 people dead and an explosion at an August wedding in Gaziantep, not far from the border with Syria, that killed at least 54 people.
US diplomatic posts in Turkey have been attacked in the past. In July 2009, gunmen fired on the US Consulate in Istanbul, and in February 2013 a suicide bomber attacked the US Embassy in Ankara.