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Why does ISIS not claim its attacks in Turkey

Why does ISIS not claim its attacks in Turkey

15.01.2016 • Turkey •

As happened previously in 2015, the 12th January 2016 attack in Istanbul was neither claimed nor denied by ISIS. In the opinion of many experts, the organization no longer needs to blow its own trumpet in a country where it maintains particular links.

Still, there is a mystery to all this. There are no video, no navy blue statement with a red stripe – its “trademark” -, though everything leads to believe that ISIS is behind the 12th January attack which killed 10 German tourists in the heart of Byzantine Istanbul. So, why does ISIS generally not claim the attacks it commits in Turkey?

The fact is that it is not the first time ISIS exercises total silence. Last year, the group already remained silent when it was linked with 3 attacks, such as in Diyarbakir in June (4 dead), in Suruç in July (33 dead), and Ankara in October (103 dead).

It looks as though ISIS did not feel the need to boast about its actions when they occur in Turkey.

This is really puzzling, as usually ISIS always claims its actions”, explains Wassim Nasr, an Arab-speaking analyst and observer on France24.For instance, ISIS claimed its role in the in-flight bombing of the Metrojet Airbus 321 (editor’s note: 224 dead), though most people were initially sceptical about it”.

Likewise, only 2 days after the Istanbul’s attack, ISIS immediately claimed its responsibility in the Jalalabad (Afghanistan) and Jakarta (Indonesia) attacks.

The scenario of an isolated act

Thus, in Turkey, ISIS does not resort to the “communication policy” it uses in the rest of the world.

First supposition: ISIS did not organize the attack in Istanbul, but an isolated individual did. This is what happened in France (in January 2015) when Amedy Coulibaly explained in a video he had acted on behalf of ISIS. The video did not carry the terror organization’s logo. The following month, in ISIS French-speaking magazine Dar al-Islam, his girlfriend confirmed Coulibaly’s allegiance to the group.

ISIS does not claim its attacks because it does not want to give the impression it is threatening Turkey, which is its only link with the outside world – Kadri Gürsel

And in another propaganda video, three ISIS jihadists mention the attack against the Hyper Casher supermarket but do not claim responsibility for it. According to Wassim Nasr, “This video confirms that Coulibaly acted as a lone wolf and not under order from ISIS leadership”.

Also, “sometimes, ISIS’s claims came long after the attacks,” recalls Romain Caillet. This analyst and consultant, who is also an expert on jihadism, mentions the example of the assassinations in Tunisia perpetrated by Chokri Belaïd in Febrary 2013 and Mohamed Brahmi in July that same year: “What happened was a claim that came later, a claim that was opportunistic and came long after the events (in December 2014) when Boubaker el-Hakim declared in a video: “it is us who killed them” . The Franco-Tunisian jihadist then called on Tunisians to rally ISIS.

A specific interdependence

But there is a second supposition which may explain the lack of claim, and that has to do with the special relationship that the jihadists maintain with Turkey: “ISIS does not make any claim because it does not want to create the feeling they might be threatening Turkey, which is their only link with the outside world”, writes Turkish columnist Kadri Gürsel.

Turkey is in fact a crucial country for ISIS. First of all, it is a logistical rear base through which oil transits to be exchanged against weapons and equipment. Then, it is also in the border region that ISIS can get daily consumer goods such as textiles, tools etc., whereas those are in shortage in Iraq and Syria. ISIS is part of the economic balance of the Turkish border regions with Syria and Iraq. Turkey is also a revolving door for the jihadists arriving from Europe, Asia, and Africa who wish to join the Caliphate, while it provides shelter to over 2 million Syrian refugees fleeing the war.

Many ISIS jihadists have been attended at Turkish hospitals, such as acknowledges Kani Torun, a Turkish doctor and MP for the Justice and Development Party (AKP), as well as former adviser to present Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. In July 2015, Kani Torun then estimated at 200 the number of ISIS members who were detained when they got discharged from hospitals and deported to their countries of origins, including “Russia, for Chechen jihadists.”

Turkey: an exit door for ISIS

Hence Turkey always was and still is a vital area for ISIS. A few months ago, a photo circulated on the social media. Shot on the Syrian-Turkish border, it showed cut hair and beards strewn on the ground – supposedly those of jihadists fleeing bombings to seek refuge in Turkey.

If ISIS is defeated, its only escape route is through Turkey, and that says all about its importance for jihadists”, continues Kadri Gürsel who also remarks, “Though terror attacks were not claimed by ISIS, it did not disclaim them either”.

In 2015, three terror attacks coincided with Turkey’s internal political agenda and the AKP regime made the best of it- Kadri Gürsel

Under pressure from its American and European allies, from NATO and the United Nations, Turkey has now rallied the international coalition against ISIS. Though the Kurds of the PKK remain its worse enemy, the Turkish government made a strategic shift when it allowed the US air force to use its Incirlik base to strike ISIS more effectively and rapidly.

Is Turkey’s cooperation with Germany a target?

As a matter of fact, the 12th January attack targeted German tourists, and beyond it, the cooperation between Germany and the Turkish government. This is “a reprisal attack for having allowed German air force to use Turkish grounds for its strikes against ISIS in Syria

Over the past months Ankara conducted several strikes against ISIS, as well as strengthened the control over its borders and detained jihadists, including foreigners who were on their way to Syria. In his speech on 14th January, the Turkish minister of Home Affairs mentioned “3138 arrests” that took place “in the context of our fight against radical groups and ISIS”, though he did not specify how many ISIS fighters were detained. But until then, late reprisals were no real challenge to actual threats.

The most likely explanation is that, unlike the January 2016 attack, those in June, July and October 2015 did not target directly the Turkish islamist-nationalist government but its opposition: the Kurds, either close to the PKK, or the members of the People’s Democratic party HDP, along with their Alevi allies – a heterodox and syncretic movement that includes elements of Shi’ite Islam – as well as trade unionists, feminist and LGTB activists, and socialists militants.

Kadri Gürsel depicts a situation when “in 2015, three attacks coincided with Turkey’s internal political agenda (parliamentary elections) and the AKP regime made the best out of it. After the Suruç attack, it launched the war against the PKK, and after the Ankara one, it created an atmosphere of terror and chaos which allowed it to win enough votes in the 1st November elections to be able to govern without a coalition

Are ISIS and Erdogan allies of convenience?

One should be careful not to overestimate the political scheming of ISIS”, warns Wassim Nasr. “Jihadists do not always act in terms of the internal political agenda of such or such country. They were suspected of wanting to sabotage the Libyan talks, or even the parliamentary  elections in France. But they do not play in that league, none of this means much to them”.

Turkey is probably a different ball game because ISIS shares the same enemies – the Kurds and the socialists – with the islamist-nationalist Justice and Development Party AKP in power. Kadri Gürsel denies any leaning for conspiracy theory but he says, “The three attacks were so closely linked with what was happening on Turkey’s internal political scene that it is hard to believe this was just a coincidence. I wonder if ISIS did not do the dirty job against the Kurd and the left-wing opposition”.

For ISIS, claiming attacks in Turkey would amount to an act of war. But the Istanbul attack may have been an operation for which responsibility was deliberately not clearly taken – Romain Gaillet

This would explain why, for ISIS, any claim would have been useless, even counter-productive.

By targeting Erdogan’s Kurd and left-wing oppositions, ISIS was showing it did not want to strike the AKP regime – what’s more, it has many potential sympathizers in Turkey (translator’s note: 10% of the Turks do not consider ISIS a terror organization) Therefore, it made sense that ISIS should not claim attacks so as not to lose this support” explains Romain Gaillet.

Just a warning

For Turk PM Ahmet Davutoglu there is no doubt as to ISIS’ responsibility in the Istanbul attack. His secret services quickly identified the perpetrator: a Syrian, born in Saudi Arabia, who entered Turkey in early January.

For ISIS, claiming attacks in Turkey would amount to an act of war”, says analyst Romain Gaillet. “But the attack in Istanbul may be an operation for which responsibility was deliberately not clearly taken. It may be a sort of warning for the Turk government, a way to say: “we know you are under pressure, that you do as little as possible against us but you nevertheless bomb us, so, be careful, because we too can hit you, so, you should reconsider what you’re doing”

Two days after the Istanbul attack, PM Ahmet Davutoglu  announced that “in reprisal” 500 artillery rounds were fired at Daech by the Turkish armed forces in Syria and Iraq, which killed “an estimated 200 ISIS terrorists”.

Ariane Bonzon

Translation: Laurence Mazure

Photo: DR

Original version in french: Pourquoi Daech ne revendique pas d’attentats en Turquie (dates back to 15.01.2016)



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