Deadly bombings a major blow to Turkey

Sunday 03/07/2016
Relatives of suicide-attack victim mourning during his funeral in Istanbul

ISTANBUL - The devastating triple suicide bomb attack on Turkey’s largest airport killed more than 40 peo­ple and wounded hun­dreds of others, raising serious questions about security shortfalls that are seriously damaging Tur­key’s economy.
“The only aim of the attack is to destabilise Turkey,” Turkish Presi­dent Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement, adding that Turkey had “the power, determination and capacity to continue the fight against terrorism until the end”.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack on Istanbul Ataturk Airport, carried out June 27th just after the time Muslims break their Ramadan fast. Turkish authorities, however, said evidence pointed to the Islamic State (ISIS).
Turkish media, quoting police sources, said the bombers were members of a Russian-speaking ISIS cell sent to Turkey from Syria. Police detained 13 suspects, in­cluding three foreigners, in con­nection to the airport bombings.
Turkey long unnerved both its NATO allies and critics at home with an ambivalent stance towards ISIS, even letting foreign fighters freely cross its borders into Syria and Iraq to join the group. This, analysts said, led to devastating security challenges that will be dif­ficult to overcome.
After a string of deadly suicide attacks on Turkish soil, Turkey in­tensified the crackdown on ISIS, raiding safe houses and detaining hundreds while carrying out cross-border artillery attacks on ISIS targets in Syria. Experts said they expect more ISIS revenge attacks.
“Turkey has gradually stepped up its fight against ISIS after An­kara’s initial reluctance to take military action against the group,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a counterter­rorism expert. “The most dramatic shift came with Turkey opening the Incirlik airbase to the US-led coalition fighting ISIS. Then (ISIS) declared open war on Ankara.”
In a little more than a year, a to­tal of 17 bomb attacks by Kurdish militants and ISIS have claimed almost 300 lives and wounded about 1,500 more, leaving the gov­ernment under increasing pres­sure regarding perceived security shortcomings.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim insisted there were no flaws in airport security and that a lack of preparedness was not to blame for the assault.
While security experts such as Ozcan stressed that no country could be entirely safe from terror­ist attacks, many in Turkey are an­gry that the government failed to keep them safe in their own coun­try and that the wars at its borders have increasingly been spreading into Turkey.
“I would have never expected an attack of that scale to be possible at an airport,” said Eftal Erdin, 55, a taxi driver who has worked around Ataturk airport for more than 30 years. “We are not afraid. We have to keep working but we are very nervous. Some of our colleagues died there. It could also have been us.”
The spiralling violence and the Turkish government’s perceived weakness in the face of a growing terrorism threat are taking a heavy toll on the country’s economy, too.
Turkey is no longer the popu­lar and safe tourism destination it once was and several countries, in­cluding the United States, Germa­ny and France, have warned their citizens to exercise increased vigi­lance when travelling to the coun­try. The British Foreign Office said “further attacks are likely, could be indiscriminate and may target or af­fect places visited by foreigners”.
The airport attack is a further blow to Turkey’s tourism sector, which was suffering its worst loss­es in decades. In May 2016, foreign arrivals decreased by almost 35% compared to May 2015, the steep­est decline since the 1990s, when violent conflict between the Turk­ish state and the outlawed Kurdis­tan Workers’ Party (PKK) was at its peak.
Many beaches and hotels re­mained empty even after the start of the high summer season. In Is­tanbul, tour operators said there had been numerous cancellations since the attack.
Tourism professionals said they hoped that Turkey’s recent rap­prochement with Israel and Rus­sia would lead to a recovery of the sector but the Ataturk airport assault on one of Europe’s busiest transport hubs might dash their optimism.
“The Eid is around the corner and business was about to pick up again after the explosion in [the central Istanbul district of] Vezne­ciler in the beginning of June,” said Abdulbakir Demir, sitting in front of his travel agency close to the busy Taksim Square in Istanbul. “Now I am afraid that we are fin­ished. If things continue like this, we will all have to close shop.”