A gun and bomb attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk international airport on the night of 28th June 2016 killed 41 persons, as Istanbul’s governor declared, up from the earlier death toll of 36, and over 230 persons were injured. Official figures also indicate that 13 of the dead were foreign nationals, including three persons with dual nationality (one Ukrainian and one Iranian, two Iraqis were identified among the victims).
On 28th June in the evening, three suicide bombers stormed the airport with assault weapons and opened fire before using the suicide explosives in the arrivals hall. Reuters’ sources specify that one of the attackers fired shots from an automatic rifle in the departures hall.[i] The explosive devices were reportedly detonated around the arrivals hall.
Turkish Prime Minister, Binali YILDIRIM said early signs pointed to Daesh or the so-called Islamic State, but no one has claimed yet responsibility for the attack.
Recent bombings in Turkey have been linked to either Daesh or Kurdish insurgency. Tuesday’s attack looked like a major coordinated assault, targeting a critical international transportation hub.
The triple suicide attack at Atatürk airport may become the deadliest attack of the year in Turkey, but it is not the first one.
Since July last year, civilians and military personnel (including military convoys being attacked) fell victim to terrorist attacks. Suicide bombs have been placed meticulously, carrying a message to the government or its institutions.
The country is confronting a refugee crisis, hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees and other refugees who seek shelter from the regional conflicts. The government has been under pressure to cooperate with the European Union in order to curb illegal migration and human trafficking, in addition to dealing with jihadis traveling through Turkey. The clashes with the renewed Kurdish insurgency in the regional context post-Arab Spring add a heavy burden on the Turkish security apparatus.
In fact, Istanbul has been on a high-security alert for months after a series of terrorist attacks carried out both by jihadis and the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), a radical wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It was less than a month ago when a car suicide bomber killed 12 persons and wounded several others in a district of central Istanbul. TAK claimed responsibility for the attack, warning foreign tourists to avoid Turkey if they care for their own safety.
The Prime Minister rushed to the conclusion it might be Daesh behind the attack on the Ataturk airport and reiterated a call for a global fight against terrorism. So did President ERDOGAN. Turkish President ERDOGAN declared that the attack should represent a turning point in the global fight against terrorism. He added that “The bombs that exploded in Istanbul today could have gone off at any airport in any city around the world.”[ii]
President ERDOGAN was in the international highlight in the prior days, seeking pardon from the Russian President PUTIN for the incident in November 2015 (Turkish’s downing of Russian airplane) and having normalized diplomatic ties with Israel. Regarding Brexit, President ERDOGAN used the occasion to condemn the double standards of the European Union’s policies, implying the lack of commitment to integrate Turkey in the European Union and to liberalize the visa system for Turkish citizens in exchange to the promised cooperation vis-à-vis the Syrian refugee crisis.
Source: Ian BREMMER, President EURASIA Group
Ataturk airport has long been seen as a vulnerable target, in the increasingly fragile security context around the world and in particular in the Middle East. The security was strengthened after the wave of terrorist attacks of 2015, but yet the control of the cars reaching the terminals is rather limited.
Ataturk is not only Turkey’s largest airport, but also an important transit-destination for travelers from around the world. The attack represents one of the deadliest in a series of suicide bombings in Turkey, which is struggling to curb the spill-over effect of the Syrian crisis and the revived insurgency of Kurdish militants and a major blow to tourism and aviation industry of Turkey (very solid components of the Turkish economy).
The attacks were condemned internationally, in the usual tone of the precedent attack. However, the regional situation is extremely complex and intricate. Thus, it makes it extremely complicated to address profoundly the root causes of terrorism and prevent further security incidents.
Minority movements are a factor that has an influence on terrorism at the moment, especially in the case of Turkey. Kurdish issue is an important factor, for example. If there is a way that Turkey is convinced that its territorial integrity remains intact and that PKK is controlled, there can be strong cooperation with Turkey against Daesh. In Syria everyone is fighting Daesh and somehow other groups but without solving the border security issues, remaining in a stalemate, to a point that no one knows how long it will take to reach a solution. Recent talks in Vienna showed how different States display different interests and are far from reaching consensus.
In the wake of Iran’s renewed visibility in the international community, divergence is on the rise. There were some implications at the expense of Iran’s relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the two main regional actors in the Middle East. Turkey displayed solidarity before the nuclear deal and even helped a lot in order to strike the deal, afterward it has become reluctant that Iran-USA relations would distort the balance of power of Iran-Turkey relations and this aspect had repercussions in the Syrian crisis. The current Iranian strategy does not comprise that Iran stands between the region and America. Iran is thinking to initiate dialogue regarding the regional complexities (with the deal there was a mandate and special target), but it is a very broad dimension, Iran needs a mandate in order to properly discuss the regional development. This is the logic at the moment; it is not totally unlikely to change for the future. Regional actors have the potential to win the battle against Daesh, in fact States’ failure has to do with the emergence and proliferation of terrorism. This fight is not an ideological battle and a superficial Sunni-Shia competition over the reign of the Muslim world, but rather a geopolitics competition that has to be addressed cautiously so that terrorism is cut short of all kinds of support. Otherwise, the stakes are high and Turkey might pay the price of other deadly attacks, given that terrorism is used as a tool to advance regional turmoil and divide regional actors.
[i] Reuters, Ayla Jean Yackley, Humeira Pamuk, Islamic State prime suspect after suicide bombers kill 41 at Istanbul airport, 29 June 2016, as in: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-blast-idUSKCN0ZE2J1
Source: Al Jazeera