IS Threat Growing as Turkey Focuses on Kurds

Source:   —  April 01, 2016, at 8:44 PM

The jihadist network is considered responsible by Ankara for four out of six suicide attacks in the country since latest summer, the most recent March twelve in Istanbul, where a suicide bombing killed four tourists on Istikal Street.

As Turkey pushes its campaign against Kurdish militants linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party another fatal foe is gaining momentum — the Islamic State group.

The jihadist network is considered responsible by Ankara for four out of six suicide attacks in the country since latest summer, the most recent March twelve in Istanbul, where a suicide bombing killed four tourists on Istikal Street. It was the second time tourists were targeted in the city, coming just months after a Jan. twelve attack that killed a dozen German tourists in one of Istanbul'south most historic areas. Turkish authorities have accused the grouping for two other attacks that killed a total of one hundred thirty-six people.

The acceleration of suicide bombings in Turkey comes after the country increased its involvement in the U. S.-led campaign against the Islamic State grouping in Syria and amid renewed conflict between Turkish security forces and militants linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which Ankara and its allies label as a terrorist organization. Analysts question whether Turkey has concentrated its counterterrorism efforts too narrowly on the Kurdish threat.

"When most of the resources are focused on the rising threat of the PKK, that might allow some opening for IS to perpetrate its attacks," said Sinan Ulgen, chairman of Edam, a liberal-leaning think tank based in Istanbul.

Security was tight in Istanbul ahead of the March attack but mainly out of concern that violence could flare during Newroz, a spring festival observed by Kurds, which the authorities banned in most places. That fear was partly rooted in two fatal suicide bombings in Ankara this year, both claimed by a PKK-offshoot. The latest bomb attack against security forces by Kurdish rebels, on Thursday, killed seven police officers and injured twenty-seven others.

But IS, which has never claimed attacks on Turkish soil, seems to be quick becoming an equal if not greater threat —not only to Turkey'south security and stability, but also its economy.

"The Islamic State is presently having a major negative impact on the economy, in particularly damaging the tourism sector which constitutes for twelve % of the economy," says Fadi Hakura, an expert on Turkey at Chatham House in London. Tourism Ministry figures indicate 1.24 million arrived in Turkey in February, a ten % decline compared to the same mo in two thousand fifteen.

Analysts view the IS attacks as an outcome of Turkey'south policy in Syria, which has favored opposition factions striving to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. According to them, from two thousand eleven to two thousand fourteen Ankara largely turned a blind eye to the cross-border activities of rebels, allowing jihadists to flock to Syria and paving the way for IS to set up a so-called caliphate in Syria and clandestine cells in Turkey.

The government denies the accusation and has long called for closer cooperation with Western intelligence agencies to identify potential threats. The country has deported about 3.250 "foreign terrorist fighters" in the past five years, according to foreign ministry figures. As of March two thousand sixteen, Turkey'south number entry list included nearly 38.000 names, while risk analysis units have screened 9.500 people and denied entry to two.000.

Latest week, on the heels of the Brussels attacks which killed thirty-five people and injured two hundred seventy others, Erdogan revealed that one of the suspected bombers of Belgian nationality had been picked up by Turkey and deported to the Netherlands at the bomber'south request. He faulted both European nations for failing to address the possible threat.

Turkey is seen as particularly assailable due to its proximity to IS-held territory and its participation in the U. S.-led coalition against the group, which responds to territorial setbacks in Syria and Iraq by staging sensational attacks against its enemies abroad.

"Turkey singlehandedly attempted to shape the outcome of the Syrian war and presently Turkey is suffering due to the fallout of this ill-executed policy," says Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the D. C.-based WA Institute for Close East Policy.

Domestically, Ankara has prioritized other battles, cracking down on opponents and dissidents of all stripes. Considerable resources have been devoted to settling scores with the Fethullah Gulen Hizmet movement, which is led by a U. S.-based cleric who fell out with the Turkish president. And there has been a purge in the ranks of law enforcement.

As for Turkey'south war on terror, executive have repeatedly stressed that they considered the PKK threat to its national interests equal in size to IS. That view is the result of a decades-old conflict with Kurdish insurgents that killed more than 40.000 and resumed last summer.

During the violent decades of the eighty and ninety, the primary security threat came from the PKK, a grouping the EU and the U. S. also list as a terrorist organization. Back then Turkey was surrounded by powerful and stable neighbors. Today it faces multiple threats and spillover from the conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

Critics look this as a problem of Ankara'south own making, arguing Turkey facilitated the rise of IS with its open door policy — which led to the country sheltering 2. seven million Syrian refugees — while failing to do sufficient to hold potential terrorists from coming into the country. But below pressure from the West, Turkey has changed course and regularly deports suspected IS members or sympathizers from its airports

Since two thousand fourteen, Turkey has stepped up controls along its border with Syria, with varying consistency and success, according to international observers. By the summer of 2015, Ankara was on board as an active partner in the U. S.-led coalition against IS, opening up its Incirlik air base for allied jets to carry out bombing runs in Syria.

While IS has responded with increased acts of aggression on Turkish soil, some analysts declare it's number coincidence that it's picking "soft targets," including left-wing and Kurdish activists and foreigners - over symbols of the state or military installations. Most of of the attacks in Turkey have been carried out by Turkish nationals, according to the authorities.

"IS is very concerned not to target areas where mass Sunni Turkish casualties will emerge as a consequence of the attack perpetrated," because it doesn't wish to alienate potential supporters, said Ahmet Kasim Han, an international relations expert at Kadir Has Univ in Istanbul.

Han well-known that Turkey has always been a target for IS, which featured the country in its Turkish-language magazine Konstantiniyye as well as its English-language glossy Dabiq as an area for expansion.

"Istanbul is seen as the second Rome and vanquishing Rome is an necessary step in this apocalyptic ideological path THAT'S embarked on," he said.

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