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Thu Feb 14, 2013, 02:09 PM

One of Our Own: The Death of a U.S. Embassy Guard


The line was long outside the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey; it always was. Every day, with the exception of American and Turkish holidays, those with visa requests, consular issues, and other appointments stood patiently in line to await the security check near the consular gate on Paris Street, behind the main chancery facing Atatürk Boulevard inside Ankara's diplomatic enclave. The line began to form early in the morning -- very early -- and long before the gates opened at 08:30 each new day. The security checks involved a slow and comprehensively meticulous process to ensure that anyone posing a threat to the embassy would not make it through that first armored layer. Turkish police patrolled the streets, but the men and women of a local guard force manned guard booths and other locations outside the embassy where visitors could enter. The uniformed guard force was the embassy's first line of defense, and they took the job very seriously; they were armed with Glock semiautomatic pistols, and carried radios and handcuffs. Mustafa Akarsu was one of the uniformed guards on duty on February 1, 2013 -- it was his twenty-second year on the job.

At 13:13 a young man approached Gate 2, a side entry-point that accepted mail and other packages, where Akarsu was posted. The man was in his thirties, wearing a baseball cap, a scarf, a winter jacket, and dark trousers; it was quite cold outside. Smartly dressed, the man could have been one of the many visa applicants who inadvertently turn into Gate 2 mistaking it for the consular section. He could have been a job applicant, as the embassy had recently posted numerous positions available. He looked all the more routine because he was carrying a manila envelope under his arm. He could have been anyone, in fact, but he was Ecevit Şanlı, a terrorist from Turkey's extreme-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, the DHKP-C; they were an obscure, yet lethal, Marxist-Leninist group. The DHKP-C targeted Turkish politicians and policemen.Taking a page from the al Qaeda playbook, the DHKP-C embraced attacks by suicide bombers: a terrorist, armed with pistols and grenades, would try and kill as many as people as possible before ultimately blowing himself up. Many DHKP-C terrorists were women.


Mustafa Akarsu had grown to love the country whose distant outpost he protected. He felt a unique sense of pride working for the United States of America, and playing a role in its defense overseas. And, this always-smiling member of the local guard force at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara wanted his children to live the American dream. Before his death he had applied for a Special Immigrant Visa; the SIV is reserved only for those who have dedicated many years of service for the U.S. government. Akarsu's hope was to become an American citizen and he dreamed of sending his children to university in the United States. Because he was killed before his SIV could be issued, the status of that request -- the fulfillment of his dream -- is now up to the State Department and special political consideration.

U.S. Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr., in speaking of Akarsu's courage and dedication said, "We said goodbye to one of our own. In the daily routine of his service, he turned out to be a hero." Perhaps the most symbolic testament to Akarsu's courage was the fact that, thanks to him, the U.S. Embassy in Ankara was open for normal services the next business day after the destructive attack. A fund has been established to help the Akarsu family in their time of need. Please visit Indiegogo or the Diplomatic Security Foundation to pledge assistance.

As a former Marine and current fiance of a Foreign Service Officer, this issue means a lot to me. A lot of Americans don't know that the majority of embassies and consulates do not have Marine guards. Even in the ones that do, the Marines are there primarily to protect the intel, not the personnel. The personnel are protected in most cases by host-country security guards.

US Embassies and consulates are US soil*, and he died defending that and saving lives

* (OK, that's only technically true in some cases, but no sense ruining a fine sentiment with trivia.)

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