ISIL hits at Turkey’s image abroad

ISIL hits at Turkey’s image abroad

Yesterday’s attack perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has important differences from the jihadist organization’s two previous suicide bombings on Turkish territory, the Oct. 10 twin suicide attack in Ankara and the July 22 bombing in Suruç in Şanlıurfa province. 

The suicide bomber chose Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city and a center of world-wide attraction, detonating himself in its touristic center, the Sultanahmet Square. It seems he deliberately pulled the pin in the middle of a group of tourists, killing 10 and wounding 15. 

No official information was available on the nationalities of those who lost their lives in the incident, but there were rumors that a good majority were German citizens. This is perhaps why Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu phoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel to offer his condolences. 

There is no question that the primary target of this incident was Istanbul. Standing as a bridge between East and West, Europe and Asia, Istanbul is home to around 14 million Turks and hosts more than 10 million tourists every year. The number of tourists flocking to Istanbul, especially from European countries, either for a long or prolonged weekend, has been steadily rising. Its airports are among the busiest in the world when combined with transit passengers. 

The site of the attack was also very symbolic. Located in the oldest part of the town, the Sultanahmet Square is in the middle of many ancient cites including the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The suicide bomber likely detonated him in the middle of the tourist group in order to achieve maximum foreign casualties. The message is clear: Istanbul and Turkey are not safe either for foreigners or for Turks. 

There are reports that many foreign travel agencies have already begun trip cancellations. This could hurt the Turkish tourism sector, which is already suffering from the ongoing crisis with Russia.    

The fact that Turkey could not stop a terror incident that killed foreigners will surely complicate the country’s image abroad, particularly amid criticism that it is not doing enough in the fight against ISIL. It may well be said that this attack is directly aimed at tarnishing Turkey’s image in Europe and elsewhere, in order to make life more difficult for Ankara in the international arena.

The attack comes at a time when Turkey and the EU are showing progress in their talks on the recent refugee deal, enjoying a kind of “spring” in ties. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will be in London next week and then in Davos to hold talks with leading European partners, before heading to Berlin as part of the Turkey-Germany high-level strategic cooperation council. This momentum will also continue in upcoming months. 

Having said this, it is likely that the Istanbul attack will lead to Turkey and its European partners seeking more efficient ways to deal with terrorism and with other key matters.  

It is certain that Turkey and EU countries – both at the institutional and bilateral level – will be looking into this issue from a wider perspective, so they can avoid the kind of future attacks that have already marked Paris, Istanbul, London, etc.