Air­ports the new ‘soft tar­gets’ for ji­hadists

The Dominion Post - - World - TURKEY

The deadly Is­tan­bul ter­ror­ist at­tack shows that busy in­ter­na­tional air­port ter­mi­nals are now a ‘‘soft tar­get’’ of choice for Is­lamic State, a lead­ing ter­ror­ism ex­pert says.

Turkey, long re­garded as a bas­tion of security and sta­bil­ity on the edge of the Mid­dle East as well as a key tourist des­ti­na­tion, is likely to come un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure from the mil­i­tant group, an­a­lysts say.

They say that with Turkey reach­ing out diplo­mat­i­cally to Isis’s sworn en­e­mies Rus­sia and Is­rael, the ji­hadist group ap­pears to be try­ing to pun­ish the coun­try by hit­ting its be­lea­guered tourism in­dus­try hard.

Greg Bar­ton from Aus­tralia’s Deakin Univer­sity said the March at­tack at Brus­sels air­port was a ‘‘proof of con­cept’’ for the group that had been repli­cated at Turkey’s Is­tan­bul Ataturk Air­port yes­ter­day.

Three suicide at­tack­ers killed dozens of peo­ple and wounded more than 140. Turk­ish of­fi­cials said the at­tack was most likely the work of Isis.

‘‘Brus­sels was hur­ried and messy . . . but it was still very ef­fec­tive . . . You just go in the front door and you have made it,’’ Bar­ton said. ‘‘Air­ports are set up to deal with an enor­mous num­ber of peo­ple. You’ve got glob­alised, in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers at a high­pro­file lo­ca­tion and which is a soft tar­get.’’

In the early pe­riod of the Syr­ian civil war, Turkey pri­ori­tised the de­feat of the regime of Bashar alAs­sad took a tol­er­ant view of for­eign fight­ers pass­ing through its ter­ri­tory into Syria to join rebel groups.

But with Turkey hav­ing opened its air bases to United States forces, and more re­cently seek­ing to im­prove re­la­tions with Rus­sia, which is strongly sup­port­ing the As­sad regime, Isis had stepped up at­tacks on Turkey in an ap­par­ent bid to im­pose a cost on the coun­try, said Rodger Shanahan, a for­mer Aus­tralian Army of­fi­cer now with the Lowy In­sti­tute.

He and Bar­ton said there was a large net­work of Isis sup­port­ers in Turkey.

‘‘Isil is ob­vi­ously try­ing to place pres­sure on the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment,’’ Shanahan said, us­ing an­other acro­nym for the group.

Ex­perts have long spec­u­lated that Isis will in­crease at­tacks abroad as it loses ter­ri­tory within its so-called caliphate across Iraq and Syria.

Shanahan said the group’s spokesman Abu Mo­ham­mad alAd­nani had re­cently called for at­tacks dur­ing the holy month of Ra­madan, re­flected in re­cent killings in Ye­men and bomb­ings in Lebanon.

He said Turk­ish security ser­vices were stretched thin by also hav­ing to de­vote en­ergy to the con­flict against the Kurds in the coun­try’s east.

Bar­ton said Er­do­gan had made the sit­u­a­tion worse by crack­ing down on po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, in­clud­ing clearouts of some of Turkey’s most ca­pa­ble in­tel­li­gence and security fig­ures. At the same time, he had politi­cised Is­lam to bol­ster his own power.


Foren­sic ex­perts ex­am­ine the site of the suicide bomb­ings at Is­tan­bul Ataturk Air­port.

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