Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, Turkey’s largest, was hit with two suicide bombings yesterday that claimed the lives of at least 36 people. However, that grisly figure may rise further as there were also several dozen injured in the blasts, some of whom have been listed as critical. The airport was immediately shut down to commercial traffic.
There were conflicting reports as to the number of assailants with some reports claiming that as many as four were involved. The explosions were accompanied by gunfire with one report claiming that at least one perpetrator opened fire with an AK-47 before detonating his suicide vest. It appears that the terrorists tried to enter the international terminal but were intercepted by police. After a brief exchange of gunfire, the terrorists detonated their suicide vests.
Turkey has been hit with a spate of deadly bombings this year that has claimed hundreds of casualties. Yesterday’s attack at Ataturk airport is Istanbul’s fourth bombing this year. In January, a suicide bomber affiliated with ISIS killed 13 people, including 12 Germans and a Peruvian. ISIS struck again in March when a suicide bomber claimed the lives of four, three of whom were Israeli nationals. Terrorists struck again in June when a remotely detonated bomb targeting Turkish police officers killed 12, including 6 police officers. That bombing was attributed to a Kurdish separatist group.
Another two deadly bombings have been carried out in Turkey’s capital city of Ankara while others were recorded near Turkey’s border with Syria as well as Turkey’s heavily populated Kurdish regions where the government is waging a deadly war against pro-independence Kurdish guerillas.
It would be unsurprising if the Turkish government placed blame for this dastardly act on the Kurds. It is not beneath the current Turkish government, led its Islamist president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to exploit tragedy to advance Turkish nationalistic propaganda.
While it is certainly plausible that this terror attack was carried out by radical Kurdish separatists, it is unlikely. Kurdish guerillas usually target the military or police forces or symbols of the state. They are cognizant of international opinion and attacks of this nature serve no strategic purpose and only work to undermine their cause.
The more likely culprit by far is ISIS and the attack is consistent with their modus operendi. The Islamist group has carried out several terrorist attacks in Turkey without regard for civilian deaths. In fact, the terrorist group deliberately seeks out soft targets with the aim of inflicting maximum civilian casualties. High profile targets like airports rank high on the group’s preferred list.
Yesterday’s attack is eerily reminiscent of a similar bombing carried out by ISIS terrorists in Brussels on March 22 in which twin suicide bombings struck the main terminal of Zaventem international airport. Contemporaneous with the airport bombings, another suicide bomber targeted a Brussels metro station. The blasts collectively claimed the lives of 32 people of various nationalities and injured dozens more.
If this was indeed an ISIS attack, and it bears all the hallmarks of one, Turkey has no one to blame but its Islamist government. Under Erdoğan, Turkey has facilitated the Islamic State’s rise to power. Turkey purchased oil from ISIS thus providing the group with cash needed to fund its operations and turned a blind eye toward the group’s activities along the border, allowing members of the terrorist group to come and go as they pleased. At the border town of Kobani, Turkey prevented badly needed supplies from reaching Kurdish forces that were battling the Islamic State. At every turn, they hindered coalition efforts to help the embattled Kurds but eventually relented under heavy pressure from the Americans.
Erdoğan, who is a Sunni Islamist, saw ISIS as a Sunni group with whom he shared much in common and believed erroneously that he could tame the beast and utilize the group as a useful proxy in Syria. That plan backfired miserably and Turkey is now reaping what it has sowed. Yesterday’s cowardly attack at Ataturk airport is almost certainly the fruit of the deleterious neo-ottoman, Islamist policies pursued by Turkey’s authoritarian leader.