12 January 2016, ISIS attacks Istanbul, Turkey

The government of Turkey has blamed ISIS for a 12 January suicide bombing in Istanbul, reports the BBC. The attack happened in the center of a tourist area near the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet Square at 10:20 am, killing 11 and wounding 11, reports The Atlantic. Many of the casualties were German.

The attacker simply walked up to a group of tourists about to visit the Blue Mosque and adjacent sites and detonated his device, says the Wall Street Journal. The Guardian reports that the actual blast happened near the German Fountain, which is at the northern end of the old hippodrome, the open park/mall type area in front of the Blue Mosque.

The Hurriyet Daily News said the bomber was one Nabil Fadli, a “28-year-old Saudi national who had applied for asylum in Turkey” along with four additional men. The Wall Street Journal, however, has Turkish authorities saying he was, “Syrian born in 1988, who was fingerprinted in Turkey last week while registering as a refugee with immigration officials, but wasn’t on any watch list.” The latter assertion has so far prevailed. Fadli’s brother was a suicide bomber in Syria who exploded himself in an attack on government forces at an airport. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on 13 January that government investigations determined that Fadli was indeed a member of ISIS.

There are three main takeaways here. First, ISIS considers Turkey one of its main targets outside its conventional battlefields of Iraq and Syria. Since 2013, authorities have accused ISIS of staging approximately seven attacks on Turkey, including kidnappings: (May 2013, March 2014, June 2014, June 2015, July 2015 – two attacks, 20 and 23 July – and the October 2015 attack in Ankara was possibly done by ISIS.) Turkey has allowed US forces to stage air attacks on ISIS from Turkish bases, and Turkey has attacked ISIS positions not far from the Turkish border in Iraq and Syria. ISIS and Turkey are at war. ISIS will continue to strike there and shower Turkish citizens with Islamist jihadist propaganda, beckoning them to join its revolution.

Second, Turkey has to increase its intelligence efforts and physical security to better safeguard its citizens and tourism sector, lest it become an ISIS shooting gallery. This would cause the citizenry to lose faith in the sitting government and trigger a collapse of the tourism sector, which is critical to the Turkish economy. In 2015, terrorism and political troubles, among other issues, caused Turkey to lose $10 billion in tourist revenues.

Third, it is now evident, based on recent attacks in Paris and Turkey, that ISIS is using refugee streams to infiltrate various countries around the world to launch attacks. Because it’s next door to the source of these refugees, part of Turkey’s efforts to protect its citizenry from ISIS must include a review of its refugee policy and its screening procedures.

Until increased security has proven effective, non-essential travel to Turkey should be reconsidered. There is every indication that ISIS will continue to target Turkey into the foreseeable future.

Sources and further reading:

Turkish Prime Minister says Istanbul bomber was ‘Islamic State member’,” The Telegraph, 13 January 2016.

Sultanahmet suicide bomber identified as Saudi ‘asylum seeker’,” Hurriyet Daily News, 13 January 2016.

Istanbul Suicide Bomber Entered Turkey as Syrian Refugee, Officials Say,” Wall Street Journal, 13 January 2016.

The Aftermath of the Istanbul Attack,” The Atlantic, 13 January 2016.

Turkey: ‘IS suicide bomber’ kills 10 in Istanbul Sultanahmet district,” BBC, 12 January 2016.

Deadly Istanbul blast ’caused by Isis suicide bomber’,” The Guardian, 12 January 2016.

Turkey Blames Islamic State in Istanbul Attack,” Wall Street Journal, 12 January 2016.

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