Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Turkey – The Terrorists’ First Target | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Two attacks have shaken Turkey in the last twelve days. The first was when a police officer who was affiliated to the wolves of ISIS killed Russia’s ambassador at an art gallery in Ankara, and the second took place on New Year’s Eve when a terrorist disguised as Santa Claus attacked a nightclub in Istanbul. The past year was bloody due to the large number of terrorist crimes that targeted Turkey more than other countries. Why was this so?

There are countries that have highly sophisticated security and intelligence services that make them difficult targets for terrorists. An example is Jordan, however, ISIS also managed to carry out terrorism there recently. Up until two years ago, Turkey was not a target for terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and its security services were mostly concerned with following other hostile organisations such as Kurdish separatist organisations.

Terrorists linked to radical Islamist organisations arrived in Turkey later than in other countries. In January 2015, a pregnant woman blew herself up in a crowd of visitors in Hagia Sophia, and it turned out that she was Chechen.

Other attacks followed, and this includes the awful attack carried out by three ISIS fighters on Ataturk Airport which killed and wounded about 190 people. Later, many people were also killed in a terrorist bombing at a football stadium on the outskirts of Istanbul. Attacks during the last few months have also targeted marriage ceremonies, police check points, markets and tourist areas.

Why is ISIS targeting Turkey in particular? Is it directed by hostile regimes in the region that have escalated their war against Turkey, like Iran as it has been claimed, or has ISIS decided to react to the Turkish government which has launched military operations against its positions inside Syria and Iraq?

Turkey’s situation is very similar to that of Pakistan during the last decade. During most of the duration of the Syrian crisis, Turkey turned a blind eye to people crossing its land to fight in Syria. Likewise, Pakistan was the fighters’ gate to Afghanistan after the war against Al-Qaeda was launched. Turkey became the main corridor which Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters and those who joined extremist groups such as Al-Nusra Front and ISIS passed through.

Turkey has become a target since the authorities there took strict measures to monitor border crossings into Syria. Foreign fighters were forced to return after European countries requested that Turkey block their citizens’ access to war zones. Most Arab countries made similar requests.

Turkey came under western, Arab and Russian pressure and they all called on it to close its borders to prevent the activity of fighting groups. At the same time that Ankara agreed to prevent foreign fighters crossing into Syria, it wanted to differentiate between those affiliated to Syrian groups that are fighting for their country, and those affiliated to terrorist groups.

Now, Turkey , the gate of the Syrian revolution, is paying a heavy price; it has become the main target of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organisations – ISIS and Al-Nusra Front. These organisations seem to be strong on the ground and pose a constant threat to the country.

It is likely that Turkey will do what states that have experienced the same thing did. The government of Bosnia began to expel foreign fighters and unarmed extremists, most of whom were Arabs, after they become a burden on its security and caused problems at a political level. It also shut down their organisations and associations.

Pakistan also pursued foreign fighters and handed over all of those who were captured to the governments of their respective countries. It also imposed visas and expelled extremist groups.

It is expected that the Turkish authorities will now turn their attention to extremist groups that found a comfortable haven in Turkey after they escaped Egypt, Tunisia and the Gulf because Ankara’s government needs to strengthen cooperation with regional security systems after having protested in the past that they were being lenient with these Islamist groups that oppose it politically.