ISIL declares war on Turkey

ISIL declares war on Turkey

The deadly Suruç attack that claimed the lives of 32 activist youngsters and wounded around 100 others is itself a declaration of war by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Turkey.  Its magnitude, scope and method show us that the July 20 Suruç attack cannot be described as just a message conveyed by the extremist jihadists, but rather as a challenge against Turkey’s recent move to intensify its efforts to fight ISIL inside Turkey and Syria. 

Although this was not the first attack carried out by ISIL in Turkey, the Suruç bombing may well, unfortunately, come to be known as just a beginning of a new violent campaign. This was the first time that ISIL has sent a suicide bomber against a professionally crafted target, thus killing dozens.  

The attack took place in front of cameras and therefore could well be recorded and distributed - even immediately after the incident - thus reaching its propaganda objectives as well. In contrast with Iraq, Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East, the jihadists did not target a mosque or a religious site. Rather, it targeted activists gathered solidarity with Syrian Kurds. What is even more horrifying is the fact that there are dozens of such suicide bombers who have already infiltrated into Turkey recently. 

As for the cause and consequences of this attack, there are some important points to make. The first and most obvious cause is Turkey’s decision to step up its fight against ISIL, particularly over the last six weeks.

Apart from high-level talks with the United States that will likely bring about more active Turkish commitment in the international anti-ISIL fight, security precautions taken inside the country to eliminate some of the jihadist cells and logistics facilities may have well disturbed the terrorist organization. Dozens of ISIL sympathizers have been arrested in different parts of the country while hundreds of potential recruits have been prevented from crossing into Syria in due course. So the attack in Suruç could be regarded as a response to Turkey’s recent actions. 

The second cause has a more strategic perspective. ISIL’s decision to advance toward northwestern Syria through the Mare-Jerablus line could only be stopped by a joint action of the Syrian Kurds, namely the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the United States, and Turkey. The PYD’s success in pushing back ISIL from Tel Abyad and U.S. air strikes against jihadist positions prevented the group from crossing the Mare-Jerablus line, which could have led to a new refugee influx into Turkey. 

However, the weakest link in this alliance is Turkey’s skeptical position about the Syrian Kurds over fears that they could merge their two cantons, Kobane and Cizre, and thus control 400 kilometers of the Syria-Turkey border. Turkey has openly threatened the PYD to prevent a demographic change through pushing Arabs and Turkmens from Tel Abyad, also urging it not to cross the Euphrates river to the west to expand its influence. 

The attack in Suruç targeting socialist activists who were gathered in solidarity with Syrian Kurds in Kobane, a north Syrian Kurdish town that was blockaded for months by ISIL at the end of last year, aimed to break this alliance and at the same time to create a fresh row between Turks and Kurds in the region.   

The third has a deeper reason. At a moment when Turkish political parties are trying to form a government and are therefore passing through a sensitive period, this attack is believed to fuel already strained tension between the government and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). ISIL’s strategic decision to hit socialists, activists, and pro-Kurdish party sympathizers is a move targeting Turkey’s soft belly. Erdoğan’s denial of the existence of the Kurdish question, despite recent agreements between the two parties, is just another move that leaves Turkey more vulnerable.  

The government should not only increase security measures inside the country and along the border against ISIL and other jihadist groups, but should also stop carrying out a smear campaign against the HDP. Within this framework, and given the fact that Ankara is set to intensify its fight against ISIL, one should be concerned about similar future attacks by ISIL.