Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Is the war on ISIS coming home to Turkey?

Is the war on ISIS coming home to Turkey?

Monday's suicide bombing in the Turkish town of Sucuc on the Syrian border, blamed on militants from ISIS, marks a significant deterioration in Turkey's national security.

While not the first attack blamed on Islamist militants inside Turkey's borders, it was the deadliest in two years, killing at least 32 people and injuring more than 100 others in the tiny border town.

Syria's war has dramatically moved within Turkish borders for the first time. Turks are rattled at the prospect of further escalation of hostilities as evidence continues to emerge of the group's presence inside Turkey, and as Ankara tries to step up efforts to rein in the Islamists at home, while also taking a more assertive position on military intervention in Syria. 

Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, at a press conference in the capital Ankara, has said initial evidence suggested a suicide mission carried out by Daesh, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

The predominantly Kurdish border town of Suruc is just a stones throw away from the Syrian border town of Kobani, where ISIS militants have been battling against Kurdish forces with the YPG, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes. Kobani's moth-eaten buildings are clearly visible beyond the razor wire marking the border, and thousands of Syrian families have made their way across to Suruc, seeking refuge from the fighting.

Residents of Suruc were already reeling from a massacre at the hands of ISIS militants in Kobani three weeks ago, when the militants went house to house in a dawn raid slaughtering over 230 mostly civilians and injuring hundreds more. When I visited Suruc in the aftermath of the massacre two weeks ago, the city's one small hospital was overwhelmed with over 176 injured Syrians who had fled the massacre – displaying mostly gunshot and shrapnel wounds. [fold]

While conspiracy theories involving Turkey's perceived sympathy for ISIS and entrenched hostility to Kurds continue to circulate, most observers point to the latest attack as retribution for Turkey's stepped up efforts to combat the group, arresting alleged Islamist sympathisers in a series of raids in recent weeks and shutting down their websites

Yet many feel that more could and should have been done to combat the group sooner, and evidence continues to emerge that Ankara has allowed ISIS to entrench itself in Turkish border areas, even given its members safe haven to the Islamists inside Turkish territory. Thousands of foreign fighters have crossed through Turkey to join ISIS over the last few years, fuelling accusations that the government is turning a blind eye. Recent reports have circulated, notably a leaked memo from Turkey's national police, that point to evidence of ISIS 'sleeper cells' at work throughout the country and along Turkey's border with Syria.

Kurds in particular, which make up around 14% of Turkey's population, argue the Turkish Government, fearing emboldened Kurdish units in Syria may galvanise separatist sentiment at home, has prioritised its fight against the Kurds rather than the Islamists.

Demonstrations broke out in solidarity with the Suruc victims on Monday night in the metropolitan capital of Istanbul. Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters in Taksim Square, where protesters chanted anti-government slogans accusing it of collaborating with ISIS. 

As Turkey presses forward with more assertive calls for the unilateral implementation of a secure buffer zone inside Syria, fears of further retribution will be a consideration. Turkey's ruling AKP Party must also pacify those who believe the government is covertly supporting ISIS and continue to press forward with a key campaign platform of solving the Kurdish peace process. 

As the party mulls an early election to try to secure a majority in parliament, national security will undoubtedly be topping the agenda.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Eser Karada?,

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