miércoles, 29 de junio de 2016

Who Bombed the Istanbul Airport?

Travellers flee Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport after early Wednesday’s suicide-bomb attack. Photograph by Defne Karadeniz / Getty

When ISIS fighters killed a hundred and thirty people in Paris, in November, the group’s leaders in Syria took credit for the attack the next morning. When ISIS zealots murdered thirty-two in Brussels, in March, the group claimed responsibility the same day. After the attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando, ISIS’s leaders took credit for both, even though they appeared to play little or no role in helping to plan or carry them out.

So here we are, more than twenty-four hours after three suicide bombers killed at least forty-one people at Atatürk International Airport, and no one has stepped forward—neither ISIS nor anyone else. Why not?

Shortly after the attack, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Binali Yıldırım, said that ISIS was the main suspect. But he didn’t offer any evidence to buttress his claim, and he hasn’t said anything since. John Brennan, the head of the C.I.A., told Yahoo News that he thought that ISIS was probably the culprit—but, like Yıldırım, he showed no proof.

So who did it? It’s not inconceivable that the attack was carried out by someone other than ISIS—namely, the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which has been leading an armed struggle against the Turkish state for decades. The war with the P.K.K. has flared up over the past two years, and the Turkish military has carried out several strikes against both the P.K.K. and the group’s affiliates in northeastern Syria, where they have set up a quasi-independent state. Kurdish militants have carried out suicide attacks before, though, as a rule, the P.K.K. has never targeted foreigners, who would have been present at an international airport.

Events will probably prove Brennan and Yıldırım to be correct, that ISIS is to blame for the attacks in Istanbul. There’s certainly circumstantial evidence. The attack, which was carried out by three men wearing suicide vests, is consistent with previous ISIS attacks. June 29th marks the second anniversary of the group’s declaration of a new caliphate in the territory it had conquered in Syria and Iraq. Under relentless Western bombardment, as well as pressure from Shiite militias and the Iraqi military—Iraqi forces expelled ISIS from the center of Fallujah this week—ISIS’s leaders are no doubt desperate to remind the world that they are still a potent force.

If the facts ultimately show that ISIS indeed carried out the Istanbul attacks—and if the group maintains its silence—it will also illuminate the deeply complex relationship between ISIS and Turkey that has evolved over the past five years.

ISIS owes its existence in part to the Turkish government. In the years following the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, which began in 2011, Turkey became the main conduit for the tens of thousands of foreigners who flocked to Syria to fight against the Assad regime. Many of those volunteers ended up joining ISIS. The reason that Turkey was the main gateway for jihadists moving to Syria was because President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government wanted it that way. Erdoğan, once a friend of the Assad regime, made the decision that his old friend needed to go, and he was willing to do almost anything to see that happen. Turkey’s five-hundred-mile border with Syria became a sieve, and many of those fighters who joined ISIS used Atatürk International Airport to complete their journey. At the same time, ISIS militants were able to set up networks inside Turkey itself.

Last year, under American diplomatic pressure, Erdoğan reversed his pro-ISIS policy, joining the U.S.-led coalition to fight the group. Since then, ISIS has treated Erdoğan, a fellow Muslim, like a traitor. According to the Soufan Group, which monitors ISIS, Turkey has been called out several times in Dabiq, ISIS’s English-language magazine. Last September, Erdoğan was even featured on the magazine’s cover, and accused of being part of “the crusader alliance.”

But even as ISIS has reacted to Erdoğan with anger, the group has been reluctant to take credit for causing bloodshed inside Turkey, perhaps out of concern about alienating the Turkish people. The Istanbul assault, if it was indeed carried out by ISIS, would not be the first attack inside Turkey blamed on ISIS for which the group did not take credit. In January, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district, killing thirteen people, all foreigners. According to Turkish authorities, that attack was carried out by a Syrian national named Nabil Fadil, a fighter for the Islamic State. Even so, ISIS never took credit. In March, a suicide bomber blew himself up just off the city’s historic Itiklal Street, killing five people. Turkish authorities blamed the attack on a Turkish citizen who, they said, had links to ISIS. Still, ISIS never took credit.

Oddly enough, ISIS’s leaders have been happy to take credit for assassinations—usually of Syrian opposition leaders—carried out in southeastern Turkey. In November, for instance, ISIS released a graphic video claiming responsibility for the murders of two Syrians, including a co-founder of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, a group of journalists and human-rights activist who documented ISIS abuses in Raqqa, the Syrian city that ISIS claims as its capital.

Terrorism is usually about one of two things: sending a message or making chaos. On the first of these counts, in Turkey, ISIS seems to have failed utterly. How can you send a message if you’re not even willing to take credit for your attack? But on the second count, ISIS, sadly, has been strikingly successful. Among other things, Turkey’s tourism industry has been in a free fall. Its domestic politics are more unstable today than they have been in years. If nothing else, ISIS is making the Turkish government appear weak and ineffectual. When it come to making chaos, ISIS, sadly, knows exactly what it is doing.

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