Turkey under attack and becoming vulnerable

Turkey under attack and becoming vulnerable

Three suicide attackers, reportedly acting on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), attacked Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport late on June 28, killing at least 41 people and wounding 250, 40 of them critically.

The attackers first sprayed bullets on people waiting in the queue at the x-ray gates with Kalashnikov assault rifles, then clashed with security personnel who were trying to stop them from entering the terminal before blowing themselves up, as confirmed by witness reports and security cameras. They arrived at the airport terminal in a taxi and immediately started to open fire in order to make their way into the terminal through the x-ray security check - if they had been able to do so, the causality count would be much higher.

Confirming the sequence of the attack, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım denied there was any security failure.

Still, open to debate is the question of how those terrorists were able to get into the airport through the main gate with their automatic rifles and explosives wrapped around their bodies.

In fact, that “no security failure” line has not changed for the last year. In that time, two organizations – ISIL and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), (behind the shadow name of the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks) - have killed nearly 270 people and wounded around 1,000 in their suicide attacks in public places around Turkey. The country is under serious attack by two notorious organizations that use terror extensively. It seems vulnerable to more such attacks, despite having prior intelligence on some of the attacks that have already taken place.

In an indictment presented last week to a criminal court in the Syrian border province of Gaziantep against a local ISIL network, the prosecutor claimed that ISIL has been recruiting and training Turkish nationals in rural Gaziantep and police intelligence has been spying on it for months. That means there was some intelligence in hand but members of that network were still able to commit attacks in Ankara and Istanbul.

Hande Fırat, the Ankara bureau chief of Doğan TV, reported on June 29 that there was intelligence in the hands of the Istanbul police about a possible ISIL attack on the airport 20 days before it happened. 

When asked about this, ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) officials said that many other terrorist attacks have been averted thanks to the security measures taken. That is hardly a comfort to the families of those who lost their lives in the attacks which have so far not been prevented.

The outlook above does not include the campaign ongoing for almost a year by Turkish security forces against the PKK in the east and southeast of the country bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria. In that struggle so far more than 6,000 alleged PKK members have been killed, wounded or captured and nearly 500 security personnel have been killed, according to official figures.

The loss of lives stemming from terrorism has risen in parallel with the escalation of tension in the five-year-old Syrian civil war. Turkey’s security problems have also worsened in parallel with the tension with Moscow since the downing of the Russian jet in November 2015.

Will the normalization of relations with both Russia and Israel help Turkey’s fight against terrorism and decrease the loss of lives? Will rapprochement with Russia help find a solution in Syria, which is the source of many problems in the region? Will further steps to normalize relations with Egypt and improve relations with Iraq and Iran serve the same purpose too?

These are all valid questions waiting for the same affirmative answer. In any case, the Turkish government has to find better ways to decrease the vulnerability of its people to terrorist attacks.