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Thoughts Around the Terror Attack in Istanbul

Thoughts Around the Terror Attack in Istanbul

Wednesday, 23 November, 2022 - 06:30

The terror attack which took place in a pedestrian street in Istanbul was a fearful reminder of past such attacks all over Europe and many parts of the world a few years ago.


Turkish police detained a woman who is said to have placed the bag which contained TNT explosives. Her accomplices were also captured. They all carry Syrian nationality. 


After the attack in Istanbul on Sunday, the Turkish Minister of Interior said that the YPG/PKK was responsible for the attack. YPG has denied responsibility.


The woman who has been detained by the police is not a Kurd but an Arab. According to the police, the woman was trained as a “special intelligence person” in Kobani/Ayn al-Arab. She and her accomplices entered Türkiye illegally a few months ago through Afrin in Syria. They settled in an Istanbul neighborhood (Esenler) where many Syrians live. She worked at a Syrian owned business. 


The big question is who perpetrated the attack and for what reason.


Back in 2015-2016 Türkiye, like other countries, was the target of terror attacks. What was different in the case of Türkiye was that perpetrators were two different terror organizations; ISIS and PKK/YPG, whereas for the others it was ISIS.


Immediately after the attack, the Turkish Minister of Interior said “we got the message and we will respond in the most powerful way”. What this message is, who sent it, is there a particular addressee  is unclear for the public at large, but it seems that the Minister knows or he thinks he knows.


The US Embassy in Ankara and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken sent Twitter messages and the White House Press Secretary issued a statement condemning the attack and expressing solidarity with Türkiye.


The Turkish Minister of Interior said to the press that he rejected all messages of condolence and solidarity coming from the US. He went on to say that the terrorist came from an area where terror organization was supported by finances provided by the US Congress.


A day later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Joe Biden met (very briefly) on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Indonesia. This issue must surely have been discussed as it was said that Biden wished to express his condolences in person. 


Türkiye and the US, among other issues, are at odds in Syria over the YPG. Türkiye regards the YPG as an extension of PKK which is also listed as a terror organization by the US and the EU members. The difference is, for Americans and others, YPG is not PKK and it continues to be US’s local partner and fighting force against ISIS. 


Even though President Trump at the time declared ISIS was defeated and no longer existed, that is not quite the case. The terror organization has lost territorial control, many of its members are killed or captured but it is not dead. In fact it is trying to make a comeback and it is quite active in a number of areas all over Syria.


ISIS continues to spread fear but on the other hand, as the control of Kurds in the eastern parts  of Euphrates constitute an irritant for local Arabs, some locals prefer ISIS to what they call YPG and Kurdish control. 


Many ISIS militants are in prisons. Their families are in camps guarded by YPG. The largest one is in Al Hol in Al Hasaka/Syria. More than 70 percent are children and youth. Many fear that besides terrible living conditions, it is a breeding ground for the second generation of militants. 


Türkiye has suffered from ISIS’s terrorism and has fought and driven off the militants from its neighborhood. So it is not that Türkiye is indifferent to ISIS but it is not happy that a terror organization ((YPG/PKK) is pampered, fed and bred by its allies to fight ISIS.


The same day that the attack took place in Istanbul, the Turkish intelligence agency hosted a meeting between the CIA and its Russian counterpart, at the level of directors. The coincidence may have excited some, but most tend to agree that there is hardly a connection. 


The meeting between the directors of the two intelligence agencies centered on the war in Ukraine. Among others, the main issue which was discussed was the frightening possibility of Russians resorting to tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. 


Iran’s name also came up in debates around the Istanbul bombing. Iran has been on Assad’s side since day one. Relations between Türkiye and Iran are always sensitive and need to be treated with care and caution. It is a relationship based on a mixture of cooperation and competition. There is always a thin line in-between. 


Türkiye has not made an official statement on the ongoing revolt of the youth and women in Iran. On the other hand, relations between Iran and Azerbaijan are tense. Iran has regarded some recent statements of President İlham Aliyev as interference in its internal affairs. Ambassadors were summoned and harsh words were exchanged. As to what this has to do with Türkiye, Azerbaijan and Türkiye are kin and very close allies. Iran feels it is facing an alliance which is supported by Israel.


Türkiye continues to pre-occupy North of Syria. Along the 911 kilometers of common border, there are three zones controlled by the Syrian opposition. These zones have been established as a result of Türkiye’s military operations. Idlib is under the control of Hayat Tahrir Sham. In rest of the areas along the border, there are YPG, Assad regime forces, Russia,Iran/Shiite militia and Americans.


As of last May, the Turkish President has signaled military operations in north Syria to clear the remaining parts from YPG. This has not been realized. It is said that the US and Russia are against such an operation and Türkiye had to reevaluate its original plans. Instead, Türkiye is targeting members of YPG and has either eliminated or captured a significant number.


Some say that the bomb which went off in Istanbul gave Türkiye a good reason to go back to its plans for a military operation into Syria to drive off YPG from areas it controls.


Another aspect of the attack is that it will probably be used as a fresh example of the risks which emanate from the presence of so many Syrians, Afghans and others which have entered into Türkiye in recent years. This will put additional pressure on President Erdogan and his government who are already criticized for mishandling these issues.


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