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ISIS’ Divisional Strategy behind Istanbul’s Attack | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A man places flowers at the entrance of Reina nightclub, which was attacked by a gunman, in Istanbul, Turkey January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

Beirut- In the first hours of 1 January 207, a new terrorist attack hit Turkey and targeted the Reina nightclub and restaurant, considered among the top amusement destinations in Istanbul, which receive hundreds of people to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

On January 2, ISIS claimed responsibility of the attack, which has opened a new chapter in the organization’s conflict with Turkish authorities.

After the bloody attack of the New Year’s Eve, the daily local newspaper Hurriyet Daily reported that the terrorist who attacked the restaurant comes from central Asian origins and most likely from the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. Information reported that the terrorist was in Konya, Turkey on the 22nd of November before he headed to Istanbul and carried on his attack that killed 39 people.

The Huffington Post also reported that in Konya, the terrorist met an ISIS militant known as “Sheikh Yussef” and coordinated details of the attack with him.

This was ISIS’ third attack in Turkey executed by members from Central Asia and countries that belonged to the Soviet Union. The first attack, implemented by a woman from Dagestan, targeted the Sultan Ahmed region in Istanbul in 2015 and the second, implemented by three men from the Republic of Chechnya, in the Ataturk International Airport.

In a new report, Dr. Anne Speckhard and Ahmet Yayla from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism suggested that the attacker likely talks Russian as he came from Central Asian country and probably has ties with the Caucasus Islamic Province. This extremist province includes members from Chechnya and Dagestan who have long experience from their fighting against the Russians.

During interviews with members who separated from ISIS, many of them talked the organization’s recruitment of high-qualified members from Chechnya. Omar al-Shishani, who was recently killed, was a Georgian Chechen jihadist who served as a commander for ISIS in Syria, and previously as a sergeant in the Georgian Army.

Apparently, ISIS has intensified its attacks against Turkey through statements it released on internet or through its e-magazines. These threats have increased in correspondence with the Turkish operation against ISIS in the al-Bab region in Aleppo, which has killed more than 150 its members. The Euphrates Shield launched by Turkey in cooperation with Free Syrian Army in August has also contributed to increasing these threats.

ISIS has succeeded in its war against Turkey in exploiting the weaknesses of the Turkish regime; the terrorist organization used the factor of common borders to create cells and sow them all across the country. Before the launch of the al-Bab’s operation, ISIS members were able to easily reach Turkish territories.

Millions of Syrian refugees have also flowed to Turley, which facilitated the infiltration of ISIS members. Observers suggest that the organization has succeeded in spreading myriads of cells that worked on attracting thousands of new members, including Turkish citizens. According to Drs. Yayla and Speckhard, this success was promoted by Turkey’s neglect of the terrorist threat that emerged with the start of the Syrian war, as Ankara thought that ISIS members will help in keeping the Kurdish militias under control.

All the arrests made by the Turkish regime in cases of corruption in 2013 and then after the failed coup attempt in July have weakened the military and security bodies in Turkey, and that played a major role in disturbing the national security and stability of the country. In fact, ISIS has also taken advantage of the ongoing disputes among Islamists and seculars in Turkey and chose the Reina nightclub to emphasize its strategic equations.

The same report also notes that the Islamic Justice and Development Party, which is the ruling party in Turkey, launched anti-celebrations campaigns before the holiday season. The Ministry of Education issued a decree that banned celebrations on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, which enraged a major category of the Turkish community.

Observers and analysts see that in its attack on Reina nightclub, ISIS didn’t only seek to spark fear in the country and damage its economy, but it also aimed at stimulating and deepening interior religious, sectarian and political conflicts.