Was the Istanbul Bombing A Terrorist Attack? Turkey Has A History With ISIS

On Tuesday, explosions went off in Istanbul, Turkey, prompting questions about militant extremist activity, given the country's close proximity to Syria and its opposition to ISIS. Since the tragedy struck just hours ago, the government of Turkey will not call the explosion a terrorist attack until investigations are further underway. Istanbul's governor Vasip Şahin released a statement on the matter: "Investigations continue about the explosion's cause, the explosive's types, the perpetrator or perpetrators of the event." CNN reported that Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş claimed the bomber was born in 1998 and came from Syria. The news outlet also reported that at least nine people killed in the attacks were German.

The Guardian reported that Turkey does suspect that the suicide bomber had terrorist links. According to CNN, no group has taken responsibility for the blasts, which struck Sultanahmet Square, a bustling tourist destination, and killed at least nine tourists and injured up to 15 other individuals.

It's quite improbable that the explosion came as a shock to the Turkish government, which has been on high security alert in recent months. The New York Times interviewed a handful of Turks who witnessed the explosion first hand and explained that they were expecting it, at least to a certain degree.

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In recent years, Turkey has been especially subject to suicide bombings that have killed dozens of civilians. In January 2015, a suicide bomber targeted a police station, also in Sultanahmet. Another suicide bomber attacked a city closer to the Syrian border in July 2015 and killed over 30 people. The Islamic State eventually took responsibility.

Suicide bombing missions in Turkey proved to be a trend when two bombs were detonated at a peace rally in Ankara last October, killing at least 95 people. Tuesday's bombing in Istanbul most closely follows the shooting of Syrian journalist Naji al-Jarf in Turkey this past December. Al-Jarf was the editor of a Syrian pro-opposition magazine and his murder came after two other journalists were killed in Turkey by members of ISIS. Although Turkey is technically a democracy, its proximity to Syria makes it dangerous for those who are opposed to ISIS. The violence against Syrian journalists who support the opposition but live in Turkey makes the militant group's presence in Turkey painfully apparent.

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Turkey's border with Syria has posed severe difficulties since Syria's civil war began. On Sunday, The Guardian preemptively addressed the bombing by bringing to attention the ease with which ISIS affiliates have been passing back and forth across the 500 mile border to Turkey, a span of land that's difficult to monitor at all hours of each day. Turkey used to boast of its "open door policy" that had made it possible to welcome over two million Syrian refugees to settle in the neighboring nation, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. However, the nation allegedly sealed its border in June 2015 following the Kurdish takeover of a nearby Syrian town called Tel Abyad.

Human Rights Watch reports suggest that the border is sealed and that Turkish border officials are exercising violence upon even women and children trying to pass through, Al Jazeera reported. But because the border is exceedingly dangerous, there are varying accounts of whether or not Turkey has cracked down on the influx of people passing back and forth through it. David Phillips, an expert on the links between Turkey and ISIS, outlined the inconsistencies to The Guardian, claiming that Turkey is choosing not to crack down on migration into Raqqa, ISIS's capitol. Perhaps the border is not as sealed as the nation's government would like NATO to believe, making the situation increasingly complex. He wrote:

[Turkey] knows the movements of all persons and can control the flow across the border if it chooses ... It's not like people are putting on their hiking boots and crossing over rough terrain. There's an extensive surface transport network which is highly regulated and controlled ... on both sides of the border.
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Additionally, Turkey has also been involved in launching counter-attacks on ISIS, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the PKK, the Kurdish separatist militant group. In other words, its closest neighbor houses three of its greatest enemies, although the PKK is also opposed to ISIS. Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has more or less ruled Turkey for the past 12 years, is the head of an Islamist political party called the AKP.

In July, Erdoğan made a speech about the state of Islam in Turkey at Jakarta, the capitol city of Indonesia.

We have only one concern. It is Islam, Islam and Islam. It is impossible for us to accept the overshadowing of Islam. Islam is damaged from what is all being done now. We all have to show the will to categorically deny terrorism without looking at its basis or identity.

But in the eyes of ISIS, he has earned infidel status by teaming up with the United States. Turkey pledged to assist the U.S. in conducting airstrikes in Syria and is currently housing American aircrafts at its military bases. If Turkey didn't agree to ally with America, it would be left relatively unprotected. But by pledging allegiance to the Westernized nation, Turkey is also putting itself at greater risk of being attacked by ISIS. Needless to say, the country will have to make tough, derisive decisions in the future.