Can we link the Istanbul attack to blowback?

More than 40 people were killed Tuesday following an attack at Turkey’s main airport. While the Turkish government blames ISIS, are its own policies contributing to the making of a monster?

By: /
June 30, 2016
Turkish attacks
Turkish flags, with the control tower in the background, fly at half mast at the country's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, following yesterday's blast in Istanbul, Turkey, June 29, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

This week’s terrorist attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport once again reminds us that atrocities against civilians has unfortunately become the new normal in many parts of the world. Extremist groups, who refuse to follow the laws of warfare, are now committing deadly attacks, at increasing intervals, across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and North America.

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the Turkish Government has put the blame on the shoulders of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Indeed the Istanbul airport attack is eerily similar to the ISIS-led attack against Brussels’ airport this past March.

We know that those behind Tuesday’s violence in Istanbul took a taxi to the airport and then tried to pass through the security checks inside the airport but were stopped by officials. A gun fight ensued and the violence came to an end only after the three attackers detonated their suicide belts. More than 40 people lost their lives and another 240 were injured.

While people will wait for more evidence to be made public and for Turkish authorities to investigate further, many wonder what the logic in attacking an airport is. For extremists, the answer is quite simple. It is an easy way to inflict maximum damage on a country’s tourism and business sectors. Airports are what physically connect a city and country to the wider world. If people inside and outside of Turkey don’t feel safe using the airport due to a deadly terrorist attack, a whole series of psychologically induced economic, social and political challenges will follow.

Turkey, once seen as a stable country, is now being confronted by a new threat that seems to be growing, not abating. Prior to the Istanbul airport attack, in 2016 alone Turkey has been hit by six other terrorist atrocities. While some were carried out by Kurdish militants in response to a worsening civil conflict between the Turkish government and the country’s Kurdish minority, others were carried out by ISIS, which controls large portions of Syria and Iraq.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should seriously consider the path he has taken his country on.  The conflict in Syria is now seriously destabilizing Turkey, partly because of Turkish policy. Evidence has emerged that demonstrates Turkey has been providing weapons and other forms of support to ISIS in northern Syria, with the aim of fighting Syria’s Kurdish minority and overthrowing Bashir al Assad. In 2015, ISIS carried out three terrorist attacks in Turkey against the Kurdish minority and peace activists, which in total killed 140 people and injured more than 900.  

As the security situation in Turkey deteriorates, the country’s political leaders should reflect on the concept of “blowback.” In the 1980s, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan colluded together and unleashed waves of jihadist fighters in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union. However, when the conflict ended and the Soviet Army retreated, the extremists did not return to their countries of origin after Afghanistan was “liberated.” They stayed on, took advantage of the security vacuum and turned the country into an open-air playground for the world’s jihadist groups, including al-Qaeda.

Be careful of what monsters you create. In the short term they can be your ally, in the long term they are a threat to humanity.