Airports the new ‘soft targets’ for jihadists
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.