Turkey’s terrorism challenge
Last Saturday was a sad day globally and in Turkey. While twin attacks in the center of Istanbul killed 44 people and wounded more than 150, a suicide attack on a military base in Aden killed 48 and wounded at least 40 and, the next day, a bomb attack at Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral killed 25 and wounded another 49.
Although terrorism has become the 21st century’s curse on humanity, and most countries around the world have been affected, the latest attacks indicated again that the threat of terrorism is geographically coalescing into a triangle made up of the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2016, a comprehensive analysis of the impact of terrorism for 163 countries prepared by the Institute of Economics and Peace, 29,376 people lost their lives as a result of 12,089 terrorist attacks globally in 2015. This was despite a 10 percent drop in the number of attacks and terrorism-related deaths. The number of terrorist groups carrying out attacks reached 274, but just four of them – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram, the Taliban and al-Qaeda – were responsible for 74 percent of all the deaths. The global economic cost of terrorism, on the other hand, reached 89.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2015.
Obviously, terrorism is not a new phenomenon and has been with humanity since ancient times. But one of the more important aspects of the latest wave of terrorism since al-Qaeda hit the United States in 2001 is its transnational character. With the rapid advance of communications and transportation technologies, the world has become a playground for a new type of networked terrorist group and its affiliates or basic sympathizers who don’t necessarily have a hierarchical connection with the central organization, its country of origin or the region. What is more alarming is the rapidity of the emergence of new groups that wreak havoc globally and spawn new groups when their abilities are reduced by global attention and extreme security measures.
Although the increased likelihood of a terrorist attack around the Middle East and Turkey’s neighborhood has become alarming, Turkey has been struggling with terrorism since the 1960s in one form or another. The increasing intensity of terrorist attacks attributed to either the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or ISIL in recent years has resulted in serious casualties. According to the GTI 2016 figures, the number of deaths reached 337 in 2015, up from 20 in 2014. Some 269 people lost their lives in the first half of 2016 alone due to the attacks of one of these groups or their offshoots.
Obviously, the developments around Turkey will have a considerable impact on Turkey’s longstanding terrorism challenge. As the political and strategic environment is not conducive for Turkey to completely eliminate regional repercussions on its national security, it is trying to limit them with various preventive measures outside its borders, such as Operation Euphrates Shield in Syria and keeping troops in three different camps in northern Iraq. Though perhaps limiting the number of possible infiltrations by terrorists from these regions into Turkey, it would be naïve to expect that these measures alone will solve Turkey’s problems, as the regional chaos will not end for the foreseeable future and terrorist organizations already have enough sympathizers in Turkey. Under such conditions, the most viable response of counter-terrorism, in addition to heightened security awareness among the general population and increasing the competence of security forces to fight against terrorism, lies in focusing on the underlying sociopolitical and structural bases of terrorism inside Turkey.