Turkey, the terrorists’ first target
Turkey will most probably do what countries that have been through similar experiences have done
Two attacks have shaken Turkey in the last 12 days. The first was a police officer, affiliated with the ISIS, killing Russia’s ambassador at an art gallery in Ankara while the second unfolded on New Year’s eve when a terrorist apparently dressed as Santa Claus attacked a night club in Istanbul killing at least 39 and injuring others.
The past year was bloody due to the many acts of terror that targeted Turkey more than other countries. Why was this the case?
Countries such as Jordan have highly developed intelligence and security apparatus that make them a difficult target for terrorists. Yet, ISIS has managed to infiltrate its territories in a not so distant past.
Until two years ago, Turkey was not a target for terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS. Most of its security apparatus’ concern was to follow up on other hostile organizations such as the separatist Kurdish groups.
But eventually, terrorists linked to Islamist organizations found their way into Turkey. Two years ago in January, a pregnant woman blew herself up amid a crowd of visitors at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and it turned out she was Chechen. This was followed by various other attacks.
Then three ISIS fighters carried out a horrific attack on the Ataturk Airport and killed and injured around 190 people. Later, similar casualties were inflicted after a terrorist explosion targeted a stadium in Istanbul. Such attacks have continued in the past few months and they have targeted weddings, police posts, malls and tourist spots.
The question that arises is why does ISIS target Turkey in particular? Are they directed by hostile regimes in the region that have escalated their war against Turkey – like Iran as it has reportedly been claimed – or has ISIS decided to respond to the Turkish government, which launched military operations against its posts inside Syria and Iraq?
It is expected that the Turkish authorities will now address extremist groups which found themselves a comfortable haven in Turkey after they escaped from Egypt, Tunisia and the GulfAbdulrahman al-Rashed
The Pakistan parallel
I think Turkey today resembles Pakistan’s situation during the past decade. Most of the years during the Syrian crisis, Turkey turned a blind eye to those crossing over to the south to fight in Syria. Likewise, Pakistan was the fighters’ gate to Afghanistan after launching a war against al-Qaeda organization.
Turkey has become the major passage from which Free Syrian Army fighters crossed and it’s also been the major passage for all those who joined extremist groups like al-Nusra Front and ISIS. Turkey has become a target ever since it took strict measures to monitor border crossings alongside the Syrian border, facing the wrath of foreign fighters after European countries requested Turkey to block access to war zones.
Most Arab countries made similar requests as well. Turkey came under western, Arab and Russian pressure as they all called on it to close its borders to deter the activity of fighting groups. At the same time as Ankara accepted to prevent foreign fighters from joining the fighting in Syria, it wanted to differentiate between those affiliated with Syrian groups which are fighting for their country, and those affiliated with terrorist groups.
Now, Turkey, the gate of the Syrian revolution, is paying a high price as it has become a major target of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world – ISIS and al-Nusra Front – which seem to still be strong on ground as they represent a continuous threat on the country.
Turkey will most probably do what countries that have been through similar experiences did. For instance, Bosnia’s government began to expel foreign fighters and unarmed extremists – most of whom were Arabs – after they had become a burden on the security and at political levels.
It also shut down their organizations and associations. Pakistan also pursued foreign fighters and sent them back to their countries. It also imposed visas and expelled extremist groups.
It is expected that the Turkish authorities will now address extremist groups which found themselves a comfortable haven in Turkey after they escaped from Egypt, Tunisia and the Gulf as Ankara’s government needs to document cooperation with regional security systems after it protested them in the past for thinking they were lenient with these groups which politically oppose it.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 3, 2017.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed