The target of the next ISIL attack
“The next wave of attack: Terror on the trains” is one of the topics scheduled to be discussed at the International Security Forum in Halifax, Canada, between Nov. 20 and 22.
Disturbing, isn’t it? Especially after the Russia’s intelligence service, the FSB, announced on Nov. 17 that a Russian passenger plane that crashed on Nov. 4 in Egypt’s Sinai Desert with 224 people on board was actually brought down by a bomb, killing all on board. The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) claimed immediately after the attack that it bombed the civilian Russian plane in response to Russian air strikes against their positions in Syria.
It is more disturbing to write about bombed passenger planes and the possibility of passenger trains, or you name, becoming the next target of terrorist attacks, but it is even more disturbing to do so while travelling aboard a plane crossing the Atlantic to Halifax, where two French passenger planes were forced to conduct emergency landings after receiving bomb warnings last week.
Paris had not been attacked yet by the ISIL militants who killed 129 on Nov. 13 when the program of the security forum was scheduled with the opening question of “Same old world?” It hadn’t been set yet either by Oct. 10, when over 100 people were killed in an ISIL attack on Ankara, or Nov. 12, when an ISIL attack killed 43 in Beirut.
Now in retrospect, it can be seen that the first attack by ISIL outside the areas it has tried to carve out from Syria and Iraq was a suicide attack in the Turkish border town of Suruç on July 20 that killed 34 people. That was about the same time as a telephone conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan to confirm the full participation of Turkey, which has a 910-kilometer-long border with Syria, in a U.S.-led coalition against ISIL and the activation of its strategic air base of İncirlik for strikes for that purpose.
Suruç was mistakenly seen as an extension of the fight between ISIL and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria and Iraq; PKK attacks on Turkish official targets were resumed after a pause of three years due to dialogue.
Between Nov. 18 and 20, the Atlantic Council met in Istanbul with the theme of “Building Global Stability and Business Resilience in Volatile Times.” But in almost all sessions with high-level attendees, the dominating issues were the ISIL attacks, the migration influx and the Syrian civil war.
The G-20 Summit in the Mediterranean resort of Antalya on Nov. 15-16, which was centered on the theme of “inclusive economies and growth,” was also dominated by the same subject. A G-20 communiqué was released – for the first time – on a political crisis, not an economic one, urging the need for a joint and sustainable strategy against ISIL.
Erdoğan, who has been greatly criticized inside and outside of Turkey for ignoring the real dimensions of the threat from the jihadist militants in Syria due to his direction of too much attention on the removal of the Bashar al-Assad regime, suggested to the other leaders before the Paris attacks that they discuss the issue during the G-20 meetings.
The same Erdoğan conducted the opening speech of the Atlantic Council meetings in Istanbul, this time urging the leaders of Muslim countries to unite and act against ISIL. He said he could not accept that terrorists were carrying out atrocities in the name of the very religion that he was proud to be a member of.
The Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate, the Diyanet, has started to issue Friday sermons against ISIL and terrorism in the name of jihad.
These are perhaps moves that should have been made earlier, but it is better late than never, especially in a world in which it seems everybody was caught off guard by this new generation of terrorism despite the rise of al-Qaeda since 9/11.
Russia is likely to play an important role here as the main supporter of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, together with Iran. It is not realistic to assume that a viable solution can be found to ISIL terrorism or the migration problem threatening the European Union without the generation of a sustainable perspective on the future of Syria. Mulling the possibility of elections in Syria with al-Assad still in power or being a candidate would be to ignore the fact that more than 4 million Syrians have fled from Syria since 2011 – meaning most of them fled from al-Assad rather than ISIL, which was only formed in 2013 – and that al-Assad only controls a fifth of his country now.
Unless major actors in the Syria theater are quick to find realistic solutions to those problems and cooperate, more people in the world will start to develop worries about whether they could be targeted in the next attack.