Turkish officials arrested two people with ties to ISIS — and prepared with an explosive vest and backpack — suspected of plotting a New Year’s Eve attack in Ankara.
So Turkey is stepping up security for celebrations in the country — with a little help from ol’ St. Nick.
Saint Nicholas, after all, hailed from what today is the Turkish coastal city Demre.
Turks widely incorporate Santa Claus, Christmas trees and holiday feasts into New Year’s celebrations, though Muslim conservatives condemn the New Year’s Eve countdown as too closely linked to Christmas and therefore haram.
According to Doğan News Agency, undercover Turkish police will be hitting the streets in Santa suits this year in an effort to foil would-be attackers: “Some 5,000 police officers will be on duty in Istanbul’s touristic İstiklal Avenue and Taksim Square in central Beyoğlu, a popular district for the city’s party-goers. The officers will disguise themselves by dressing up as Santa Claus, shoe shiners and street vendors among the crowds of people gathered on the streets to celebrate.”
“Those inclined to commit crimes notice policemen but they are unaware of undercover officers,” Istanbul’s plainclothes police unit deputy head Zafer Baybaba told reporters. “In fact, we get to notice them.”
About 15,000 plainclothes — or red furry suit, fake white beard-clothed — officers total will be on the streets of Istanbul Thursday night.
They won’t just be looking for terrorists, but the “notorious” crowds of men who gather in Taksim Square and sexually harass women.
But dressing as Santa may not be the best way to move in a crowd unnoticed in a country where Islamists have it out for the jolly guy.
Turkey’s far-right Sunni Islamist party BBP staged a skit on the streets of Bolu in which a guy dressed as Santa was handing out presents to mark New Year’s before being arrested and hauled before an Ottoman judge.
The skit showed the Muslim judge deciding to mercifully release Santa, moving jolly St. Nick to convert to Islam.
But some Turks have pledged to celebrate New Year’s just to spite the conservatives who take such umbrage with the holiday.
“You still belong to that ignorant bunch who does not know the difference between ‘Christmas’ and ‘New Year’s Eve,’ and who is not capable of ever learning it… Is it your job to pass along these heavy judgments? Mind your own business,” wrote Hurriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan.
“Are you complaining by saying ‘But in these entertainments certain Christian motifs are being used?’ Well then, sit down and think: Why isn’t everyone in the world imitating Muslim motifs but using Christian ones?… Is there anybody meddling in what you will be doing or telling you what to do? Is there anybody telling you ‘On New Year’s Eve, you must have fun and eat turkey; otherwise you will be beheaded?’”