Turkey Reeling from ISIS Suicide Attack

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The targeting and killing of young Turkish activists in the town of Suruç by ISIS extremists has provoked outrage and much soul searching in Turkey. By refusing to join the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the Turkish government had seemed to believe that it could avoid the turmoil and bloodshed which has been rampant in the region. As a result, some Turkish commentators blame the government’s “live and let live” attitude for the suicide attack, while others in Turkey and elsewhere are hoping that it might become a catalyst for action, starting with the creation of a unity government and a cohesive anti-terrorist strategy.

Writing for one of Turkey’s main dailies, Hurriyet Daily News, Serkan Demirtas points out that the nature of the attack and the subsequent death toll means that ISIS has sent an unmistakable signal and has declared war on Turkey: “Its magnitude, scope and method show us that the July 20 Suruç attack cannot be described as just a message conveyed by the extremist jihadists, but rather as a challenge against Turkey’s recent move to intensify its efforts to fight ISIL inside Turkey and Syria. Although this was not the first attack carried out by ISIL in Turkey, the Suruç bombing may well, unfortunately, come to be known as just a beginning of a new violent campaign….The government should not only increase security measures inside the country and along the border against ISIL and other jihadist groups, but should also stop carrying out a smear campaign against the HDP. Within this framework, and given the fact that Ankara is set to intensify its fight against ISIL, one should be concerned about similar future attacks by ISIL.”

The suicide attack has naturally drawn strong condemnations from various segments of the political and social spectrum, including one high profile cleric, who has issued a fatwa justifying the targeting of ISIS: “a popular Muslim televangelist in Turkey has issued …. [a] sensational fatwa, issuing a religious license to kill Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants. ‘If you run across them, slaughter them like you fight with the people of Ad and İrem [two places destroyed by God]. Those who kill them will be awarded and those who are killed by them will be martyrs,’ Ahmet Mahmut Ünlü said in his July 23 column for daily Vahdet, adapting a quote by Prophet Muhammad to today’s ISIL militants. Ünlü, popularly known as ‘Cübbeli Ahmet Hoca’ (Robed Ahmet Hoca) among his followers, also described ISIL militants as ‘the dogs of Hell.’”

Others, including Today’s Zaman’s Murat Aksoy, have begun looking at Turkey’s dysfunctional political process and the ruling party’s policies as the main factors leading to this week’s attack: “The Suruç massacre reminded us of the ISIL threat once again; but it also showed how divided Turkey is. The statements politicians made in the aftermath of the attack reveal that Turkey is experiencing an emotional and mental schism. We are facing a situation where even the gravest pains cannot reunite us. Even the media confirms this state of mental and emotional division….The statements by Erdoğan and other AKP figures in the aftermath of the explosion in Suruç reveal that the government circles tend to make this huge explosion look like an ordinary development. The reason is obvious. The AKP’s foreign policy and policy makers are primarily responsible for the growth of ISIL in Syria, Iran and Turkey as a major threat.”

Part of the criticism, suggests Iyad Dakka, derives from the fact that Mr. Erdogan and the AKP-led government has followed a policy of “live and let live” towards ISIS, which now appears to have backfired: “The attack is the final nail in the coffin for anyone inside the Turkish government still holding on to the illusion that an ‘entente cordiale’ with ISIL can continue. Murmurs of such an agreement with ISIL began in earnest last year when Turkey was able to negotiate the release of 49 citizens taken hostage by ISIL. Turkey’s unwillingness to open its airspace to international airstrikes against ISIL further fueled suspicions that the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government had in fact struck a deal with the devil….Now Turkey has no choice but to tighten the noose around ISIL. One option is to ramp up its internal crackdown on the group….The other option is to step up military efforts against ISIL. One consideration on the table is for Turkey to establish its own buffer zone in northern Syria. The military reinforcements sent to the Syrian border in recent weeks are a signal that Turkish leaders are strongly considering this course of action.”

The more important question now is what the government decides to do going forward, with the Saudi Gazette editorial proposing a tougher and more confrontational posture on the part of the Turkish government: “The announcement made by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is long overdue. For months Turkey had been warned by its friends that its ambivalent attitude to the terrorists of Daesh (so-called IS) represented a danger, not simply to the region but to Turkey itself. Now it has learned the error of ignoring that advice….The Turkish government therefore needs to do far more than implement a long-overdue tightening of security along its border with Syria to stop the flow of recruits as well as supplies to Daesh. It needs to clampdown on the networks within Turkey that have been organizing this support for the terrorists. It needs to root out those who for money or out of perverse conviction are prepared to sustain Daesh.”

The Peninsula’s editorial highlights the large influx of Syrian refugees in Turkey, suggesting that Turkey should be aware of ISIS cells within the country, which is why Turkey’s leaders would do well to “ramp up security”: “The attack in Suruc should prompt the Turkish government to further ramp up security and add more muscle to its policy against the Islamic State….Controlling by terror has been the strategy of the Islamic State. All its activities including kidnappings, and gruesome public slayings are aimed at sowing fear. The latest attack was targeted at youth who were devoted to rebuilding the Syrian border town of Kobane. The militant group has sent a message that destruction is its aim and anyone trying to come in the way will be eliminated….Given the power of the group and its potential to recruit online, one should not be surprised if it has members and sleeper cells inside Turkey. To control the proliferation of IS members and prevent more attacks presents a formidable challenge to the Turkish government.”

Finally, Yeni Safak’s Ali Bayramogly is concerned that the threat of ISIS-inspired attacks might increase in the days and weeks to come, which is why Turkish politicians should use the terrorist attacks as an impetus for the creation of a stable coalition government: “While it’s necessary to band together against terrorism and violence, forget about the differences, put the political arguments aside and come together (just as it happened in many countries like Spain and recently France) after the Suruç attack, the contrary is happening. Political actors are blaming each other, and following the contribution of the press’ conflicting attitude, the platform of the coalition negotiations are being vandalized in this way….The coalition is an opportunity for Turkey to take the resolution process seriously, review their Rojawa policy and take ISIL seriously. This situation is also an occasion for the formation of a coalition.”

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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 and balanced 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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