Last night, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim claimed
was behind the terrorist attack that killed 41 and injured over 239 at
Istanbul Atatürk Airport, the third busiest airport in Europe turned desolating
theater of Turkey’s most recent bloodshed. Armed with AK-47 rifles, three attackers
opened gunfire before
blowing themselves up at the entry of the international terminal, outside
the security checkpoints.
signs point to ISIS, although the group has not claimed responsibility for
the gun and suicide bomb attack which is not surprising, given ISIS’ track
record of unclaimed attacks
in Turkey. However, the timing of Yildirim’s statements appears to be significant.
The rapidity with which Turkish authorities blamed
ISIS hours after the explosions and based the accusation only on
preliminary, scattered reports, seems to suggest that Turkey may be determined to
abandon its reluctant approach to take ISIS head on both on Turkish soil and in
Contrary to its initial
condescendence for ISIS operatives moving fighters and weapons across
Turkish territory and to its commitment to fight Bashar al-Assad’s regime in
Syria over directly confronting ISIS, since 2015 Turkey has become increasingly
active in targeting and dismantling ISIS cells within its borders and has taken
the field alongside the U.S.-led coalition in Syria. Therefore, behind the attack
could be an act of retaliation for Turkey’s tightening grip over ISIS networks,
or an effort from ISIS to project power and show its enduring effectiveness
after its recent major
losses in Falluja. As an alternative, the most recent suicide attempt – the
fourth in Istanbul alone this year – could be interpreted as a symbolic attack at
the heart of a supposedly “un-Islamic” government who yesterday officially agreed
to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel. The most realistic scenario in
the near future envisions Turkey dramatically escalating its efforts to clamp
down on ISIS both within and outside its territory, and likely working with the
U.S. to restore a shared vision in Syria.
“Turkey will continue to crack down on ISIS, as well as increase cooperation with the U.S. and Western intelligence agencies against the group.
ISIS, though, will continue to play its nefarious game of
creating an environment of fog and suspicion through attacks, this time in
Turkey. The group, which did not take responsibility for past attacks in
Turkey, will likely also not assume responsibility for the Istanbul airport
This is because ISIS wants to create an environment of suspicion
in Turkish politics. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the mothership jihadi organization from
which ISIS was spawned, carried out a number of suicide attacks in Iraq after
2005, and yet the group claimed responsibility for none of these attacks.
This led to an environment of suspicion in which the Sunnis and
Shiites in Iraq blamed each other for the attacks, starting retribution-style
attacks. Subsequently, Iraq descended into civil war.
By not taking responsibility for its attacks in Turkey, ISIS
wants to do the same, triggering societal fault lines, this time between
supporters and opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leftists
and rightists, Turks and Kurds, seculars and conservatives.
Turks of all political persuasions and backgrounds ought to learn
from Iraq and unite in the face of the ISIS threat. At the same time, the
Turkish government needs to use its full force to combat the ISIS threat to
prevent Turkey's potential catastrophic descent into chaos as a result of ISIS