Turkey Joins Growing List of ISIS-Inspired Terror Attacks

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Views from the Region

Tuesday’s terror attacks in one of Turkey’s busiest airports have once again served as a reminder of the fragility of peace and security in today’s globalized world. Messages of support have poured in from around the world, including from many regional government and religious leaders. In Turkey, some commentators are questioning their government’s anti-terror measures, especially in light of other recent terror attacks. While some suggest that Turkey’s increasing isolation in the international arena might be partly at fault for its inadequate preparation, others have laid the blame at the feet of Turkey’s alleged accommodation of the Islamic State.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, various regional leaders took the opportunity to express their condolences to the Turkish government. In a message posted on the pages of the Saudi daily Arab News, “King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif, deputy premier and minister of interior, expressed grief in separate cable of condolences to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “As we strongly condemn these criminal acts, we, on behalf of the government and people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, condole with your excellency, the families of the victims and our Turkish brothers, praying to Allah Almighty for bestowing His mercy upon the victims and for a speedy recovery for the injured people, and to spare you, your country and your brotherly people all evils.”

Similarly, Benny Tocker, writing for the right-leaning Israeli daily Arutz Sheva, reports on comments made by Jewish leaders in Turkey condemning the attacks: “The chief rabbi of Turkey, Rabbi Yitzhak Haliva, on Wednesday evening called for the prevention of the killing of innocent people following the terrorist attack in Istanbul. ‘Those who carried out the attack are people who sold their souls to the devil,’ Rabbi Haliva told Arutz Sheva in an interview, adding, ‘People who do not know that this month is a holy month for Muslims – sold themselves to the devil. That’s what they do, kill innocent people for no reason’.”

Messages of support came also from Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who, according to the Iranian daily Tehran Times, “has censured terrorist attacks in neighboring Turkey, saying extremism is a ‘global threat’ that must be countered globally. ‘Terror rears its ugly head yet again in our friend and neighbor’s airport. Extremist violence is a global threat; we must confront it together,’ he wrote on his twitter on Wednesday. At least 36 people, including an Iranian, have been killed and 147 more injured in a terrorist attack in Istanbul’s Ataturk international airport.”

Some Turkish commentators and observers, however, have expressed serious reservations about their government’s preparation. For example, Hurriyet Daily News’ Murat Yetkin writes that despite Turkish government’s assurances, the most recent terror attacks demonstrate the government’s inadequate preparation as well as the need for an end to international isolation: “Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım denied there was any security failure. Still, open to debate is the question of how those terrorists were able to get into the airport through the main gate with their automatic rifles and explosives wrapped around their bodies. In fact, that ‘no security failure’ line has not changed for the last year…. The country is under serious attack by two notorious organizations that use terror extensively…. [R]uling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) officials said that many other terrorist attacks have been averted thanks to the security measures taken. That is hardly a comfort to the families of those who lost their lives in the attacks which have so far not been prevented….Turkey’s security problems have also worsened in parallel with the tension with Moscow since the downing of the Russian jet in November 2015. Will the normalization of relations with both Russia and Israel help Turkey’s fight against terrorism and decrease the loss of lives?”

Meanwhile, the Gulf News editorial points out the difficulty of dealing with an organization like ISIS, while subtly suggesting that perhaps the Turkish government is only reaping what it has sown: “The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces enemies on many fronts. It has renewed its military campaign against the Kurdish Workers Party and has struggled to deal effectively — for a myriad of reasons — with the threat provided by a seemingly porous border with Syria. It seems extraordinary, for example that for many months, Daesh filled the caliphate’s coffers with dollars earned from crude exports into Turkey. The effects of that porous border may lie in the debris of Ataturk airport. There can be no letup in the fight against terrorism ever — from any quarter.”

Considering what the next steps should be, the Khaleej Times editorial team recommends a global approach to tackling and defeating terrorist organizations like ISIS, since no one country can do so on its own: “No one country can fight against terror. This is everyone’s fight. We must take it to terrorism’s safe havens, to the hills, valleys and suburbs of hate….Notwithstanding the statements of condemnation, pouring in from across the world; the fact is that the war on terrorism is far from being won. World leaders have failed in properly estimating the terror threat and lack of coordinated action has provided the dreaded elements to regroup and indulge in carnage. The point is that the terrorists are free to choose their timing and targets, and seem to be scot-free. This necessitates a forensic trail tracking of disgruntled elements and cracking down on abettors that provide social shield to these terror groups….Whoever is behind Istanbul’s attacks should not go unpunished. World governments and intelligence agencies need to share their notes and finish this men-ace of terrorism once and for all.”

The Jordan Times editorial sees the fight against ISIS and likeminded organizations as one between two visions of Islam; and therefore, proposes a way forward that is built on an ideological confrontation, requiring the Muslim societies to evince the best Islam has to offer: “The whole world is a target and, unfortunately, the whole world is incapable of stopping the misfits who claim to act in the name of a faith….Here in Jordan, almost one week ago, this group targeted an army post that was offering humanitarian assistance to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees escaping the war at home….Tuesday’s Istanbul attack should…unite the civilized world in the fight against the forces of evil, with Muslim countries at the forefront. Muslim countries have to come together and agree on more effective mechanisms to fight terrorists and, more importantly, to properly address the ideological aspects of this war. This is a fight they have to wage and win for Islam and its principles of tolerance, coexistence, love, peace and harmony. The attack in Istanbul, with which the whole world stands in solidarity today, will hopefully constitute a turning point in the fight against terror.”

Worried that the rhetoric and actions following a terrorist attack often are disproportionate to the needs that ought to be addressed, the Saudi Gazette staff suggest in a recent editorial that whatever joint action is taken, governments drafting anti-terror measures should take a hard look at the question of proportionality: “Another city, another terrorist atrocity, more innocent dead and three bigoted fanatics who will no longer be a threat to decent society….Around the world, airport managers are looking at the installation of hundreds of screening devices, which will avoid the creation of crowds waiting to access terminals….of course, there is the increasingly attractive option of passenger profiling. Washington is already considering requiring social media links for those applying for a visa. Mining Big Data for suspicious information is already happening as police and security forces seek to track down those responsible for terror crimes. It is no big step to deploy this tactic to track down those who might be responsible for a future terrorist crime….There is no easy way out of this. Everyone wants to travel safely. The issue of proportionality is a hard one. On average, every two days, more people perish in car wrecks in Turkey than were murdered at Ataturk Airport. Yet the authorities are doing little to make Turkish roads safer.”

Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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