Two days after the attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, responsibility for the death toll of 43 remains unclaimed. A telling silence.
The sophistication of the terroristic act leaves little doubt that it was the work of a well-organized group.
CIA director John Brennan went public, saying that the triple suicide attack “certainly bears the hallmark of ISIL's depravity." Brennan explained that ISIS’s choice not to claim responsibility ”is not very surprising because at least in most instances, if not all, ISIS has not claimed credit or responsibility for attacks that are perpetrated inside of Turkey.”
Why is an organization well-known for bragging about its depravity choosing to keep a low profile?
It looks like it wants to send a message.
For a long time, Turkish officials have been accused of keeping an ambiguous relation with the terrorist group. Turkey became the access point for the flow of foreign fighters to and from war-torn Syria. When ISIS took over the Syrian oil pipeline, it smuggled millions of barrels across the border to sell on the Turkish black market, securing revenues to finance its war.
In the meantime, Turkish airstrikes are more likely to target the rival Kurdish militias (including those fighting against ISIS) than the Islamic State.
And despite being the de-facto crossroads of ISIS militants, Turkey was for a long time untouched by the violence of the radical terrorist group.
That is until a year ago, when international pressure forced Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to allow Western forces to use an air base to stage a bombing campaign of the Islamic State. In the wake of the Paris nightclub attack, Ankara also enforced a crackdown on the movement of foreign fighters.
Since then, Turkey has become the epicenter of ISIS’s anger. This week’s airport bombing echoes events that recently unfolded in Belgium, another country that diverted its gaze from terrorists in its mist. And it’s not just because the attack in Istanbul followed the same pattern of that at Zaventem airport in Brussels.
There is a common thread that ties the two countries which, for different reasons and strategies, have had a laissez-faire attitude toward terrorist groups nesting within their borders.
After the shock of the attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people, Europe discovered that Belgium was a hotbed of terrorists. The neighborhoods of Molenbeek and Schaerbeek in Brussels became quickly well-known around the world, even to those who never set foot in the capital of Europe. Newspaper headlines called them “a breeding ground” for terror.
How was this possible, with all the security in place to protect sensitive targets and infrastructure?
Despite a colossal manhunt, it took four months to the Belgian authorities to capture Salah Abdeslam, one of those responsible for the Paris attacks. After the capture, despite a maximum security alert, the terrorists were able to carry out the attack at the Brussels airport.
Both Belgium and Turkey made disastrous political and strategic choices.
In December, 1996 former French Interior minister Charles Pasqua accused the Belgian security services of having a tacit agreement with the Algerian terrorists responsible for the bombing of the Paris metro in 1995. The French minister accused Brussels of turning a blind eye in return for the promise of not carrying out attacks on Belgian soil.
When Belgian officials decided to crack down — after discovering that the 2015 Charlie Hebdo and the November attack in Paris both originated in Belgium — they had to face a well-established network of terror that was not easy to penetrate because it had been allowed to flourish for so long.
Strangely, it was Turkey’s president Erdogan who, in April, accused Brussels of “nursing a viper in its bosom.”
Perhaps, the pot is calling the kettle black.