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Istanbul bombing: how hard is Turkey fighting islamic State?

Police at the scene of Istanbul's deadly bombing
Police at the scene of Istanbul's deadly bombing AFP/Bulent Kilic
Text by: Jack Fereday
4 min

In response to the terrorist attack which killed 10 tourists in Istanbul on Tuesday, the Turkish authorities have detained 68 suspects in raids across the country. But the bombing raises serious security questions for Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government, which critics accuse of not waging an effective fight against the Islamic State (IS) armed group.


The suicide bombing which claimed the lives of 10 German tourists was not the first attack by IS in Turkey.

Violence had already escalated back in July, with a suicide attack in Suruc, a Kurdish-majority town near the Syrian border. 

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Then in October, another suicide attack thought to be carried out by IS claimed the lives of over 100 people in the capital Ankara. 

The Turkish government says it is determined to fight IS and has been providing the US with an airbase for attacking the terrorist group in Syria. 

But, since a ceasefire with the Kurdish armed group PKK collapsed last year, Istanbul has been fighting a war on two fronts, raising questions over the government's determination to deal with the situation across its Syrian border. 

Oktay Aksoy, a retired ambassador and director of international programmes at the Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara,  says Erdogan's government will now be under increased pressure to step up its efforts to control its borders.

"Our open borders with Syria have been criticised," he told RFI. "Of course, it was not easy to distinguish between the refugees who really need help and those who are involved in these terrorist activities." 

He says Tuesday's attack "may necessitate closer scrutiny of people coming from Syria especially". 

Beyond the issue of border control, some critics claim Turkey's strategy, undermined by long-standing tension with its large Kurdish minority, was always likely to backfire.

PKK leader Cemil Bayik accused Turkey of attacking the Kurdish armed group in order to "stop the Kurdish advance against the Islamic State in Syria" in a recent interview with the BBC.

Turkey, he said, was actually "protecting Isis".

Nulifer Koc, co-chairwoman of the Kurdistan National Congress party, reiterated the claim that the Turkish government has been instrumentalising IS in their effort to suppress the Kurdish independence movement. 

"Isis is very useful to Turkish interest", she told RFI.  "I think they are convinced to keep Isisin power because there are no other option for Turkey's dream of expansion in the Middle East." 

The government in Ankara has firmly rejected the claim, insisting on its intention to fight all enemies of its national interest. 

But, according to Mencur Akgun, a political analyst and professor at Istanbul's Kultur University, the recent attack in the Istanbul could end a period of restraint in the government's fight against IS. 

Erdogan's government will now have to reinforce their collaboration with foreign powers in their struggle to stop Islamic State in Syria, he argues.

"[The attacks] show the necessity of global collaboration against Isis and I hope that not only the Turkish government, but the rest of the world, will see that." 

Akgün also hopes that "the Turkish government will fight Isis without any second thoughts, without trying to instrumentalise Isis for our own national interests."

Despite criticism, Turkey has led many raids on Islamic State suspects since violence escalated last summer. 

"Since the Turkish government's decision to strike Islamic State positions in Syria last summer, there has been some change", Jean Marcou of France's Sciences Po Grenoble explains, while conceding that the PKK has borne the brunt of military action.

 "But these changes have been quite weak because the government has continued to strike mainly Kurdish objectives, especially in northern Iraq, and not many Isis positions in Syria."

On Tuesday Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey will continue its fight against terror, insisting his country will continue working with the US-led coalition to combat Isis. 

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