Turkey was rocked Tuesday night by another deadly bombing that killed at least 41 people when attackers armed with automatic weapons and explosives targeted the busy Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.
The carnage is the latest in a string of attacks – more than half a dozen bombings in 2016 alone – that underline the increasing threat of terrorism in Turkey, which has seen its status as a stable tourist destination shaken.
Chris Kilford, a fellow at the Queen’s University Centre for International and Defence Policy, said Turkey’s participation in the U.S.-led coalition against the so-called Islamic State and clashes with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have led to a rise in devastating car bombs and suicide attacks.
“Fighting between the Turkish government and the PKK started last year at about this time after a two-year ceasefire,” Kilford told Global News. “As a result we’ve seen more explosions, suicide attacks by the PKK.”
The PKK has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy since the 1970s and is considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
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Kilford, who served as Canada’s defence attaché to Turkey from 2011-2014, said while suicide attacks that have been blamed on the PKK largely target military or government targets, attacks blamed on ISIS have increasingly targeted foreign interests in Turkey resulting in scores of civilian deaths.
Turkey shares a more than 800-kilometre border with Syria and has been accused of allowing foreign fighters to cross over to join groups like ISIS, said Kilford.
The Turkish government has since been under pressure from the U.S.-led coalition to close the Syrian border and take action against ISIS.
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“This has upset ISIS because they rely on the Turkish border,” he said. “When ISIS launches its attacks, they are directed at Kurds in Turkey or foreign interests in Turkey.”
ISIS rarely takes responsibility
The Turkish government blamed the June 28 attack on Islamic State extremists but there has so far been no immediate confirmation from ISIS.
Whereas ISIS is quick to claim responsibility in other terrorist attacks – Paris and Brussels – the Islamic State rarely claims any attacks in Turkey.
Anthony Skinner, director of the analyst group Verisk Maplecroft, told the Associated Press one reason is a reluctance to be seen as killing fellow Muslims and to continue exploiting the violent rift between Turkey and Kurdish rebels.
“It very clearly meets Islamic State’s strategic objectives to leave this ambiguity,” Skinner said.
Tourism in Turkey plummets
The ongoing security threats coupled with tensions with Russia after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the country’s border with Syria has led to a significant drop in tourism.
The number of foreign visitors declined roughly 35 per cent year-on-year to 2.48 million in May 2016, according to data from Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
“The tourism industry has been in a nosedive,” said Kilford. “And now the bombing in Istanbul, it’s really going to be difficult on the Turkish economy.”
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Istanbul’s Ataturk airport also reopened Wednesday morning less than 24 hours after the bombings, in sharp contrast to the 12-day shutdown in Brussels after the deadly airport bombing there in March.
Some more devastating attacks, like Tuesday’s, have specifically targeted the country’s tourism industry.
A Jan. 12 attack that Turkish authorities blamed on ISIS killed 12 German tourists visiting Istanbul’s historic sites.
Last October, twin suicide bombings hit a peace rally outside Ankara’s train station, killing 103 people. There was no claim of responsibility but Turkish authorities blamed it on an Islamic State cell.
— With a file from the Associated Press