The government big guns in Ankara just shrugged it off when on June 5, 2015, only two days before general elections in the country, homegrown jihadist militants for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syia (ISIS, or ISIL or IS) detonated bombs, killing four people and injuring over 100, at a pro-Kurdish political rally.
Again, when IS, on July 20, 2015, bombed a meeting of pro-Kurdish peace activists in a small town on Turkey's Syrian border, killing 33 people and injuring over 100, the government behaved as if it had never happened. After all, a bunch of "wild boys" from the ranks of jihad -- which the ruling party in Ankara not-so-secretly aspires to -- were killing the common enemy: Kurds.
Then when IS jihadists, in October, killed over 100 people in the heart of Ankara, while targeting, once again, a public rally of pro-peace activists (including many Kurds), the Turkish government put the blame on "a cocktail of terror groups" -- meaning the attack may have been a product of Islamists, far-leftist and Kurdish militants. "IS, Kurdish or far-leftist militants could have carried out the bombing," the prime minister at the time, Ahmet Davutoglu, said. It was the worst single terror attack in Turkey's history, and the Ankara government was too demure even to name the perpetrators. An indictment against 36 suspects, completed nearly nine months after the attack, identified all defendants as Islamic State members. So there was no "cocktail of terror." It was just the jihadists.
In the last year, there had been further jihadist acts of terror, targeting Turks and foreign tourists, but with relatively few casualties up to now. At an Istanbul airport, however, a mysterious explosion, which the authorities hastily attempted to cover up, was probably the precursor of the latest mega-attack in Istanbul. The management at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen Airport said on Dec. 23, 2015 that: "There was an explosion at the apron and investigation regarding its cause is progressing ... Fights have resumed." That unidentified explosion consisted of three or four mortars fired at a passenger plane parked at the apron. The attack killed one unfortunate cleaner.
The incident was quickly "disappeared" from the public memory. One person dying in a mysterious explosion was too minor for a collective Turkish memory that had grown used to casualties coming in the dozens. It was, in fact, a powerful message from the terrorists: We will target your lifeline -- air traffic.
Every year about 60 million travelers pass through Istanbul's main airport, Ataturk. Turkey is now building an even bigger airport that will host 150 million passengers a year. Completing the mission from December's "minor and unresolved" attack at the Sabiha Gokcen Airport, the terrorists visited Ataturk Airport on June 28, killing at least 45 and injuring hundreds of people.
Travelers are shown fleeing, trying to escape the terrorists attacking Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, June 28, 2016. (Image source: ABC video screenshot)
Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim, said that it was "probably" an attack by IS. Days later, the suicide bombers were identified as jihadists of Central Asian origin.
In a state of perpetual denial, Turkey's Islamist rulers are still too bashful to admit any linkage between political Islam and violence. Ironically, their denial exposes their country to the risk of even more Islamic terror. Worse, the political Islam they fuel in their own country is growing millions of potential jihadists at home. In November, a Pew Research Center study found that 27% of Turks (more than 20 million) did not have an unfavorable opinion of IS -- compared to, say, 16% in the Palestinian territories.
In March, only three months before the latest jihadist attack in Istanbul, thousands of supporters of Hizb ut-Tahrir -- a global Islamist group, viewed by Russia and Kazakhstan as a terrorist group but that defines itself as a political organization aiming to "lead the ummah" [Islamic community] to the re-establishment of the caliphate and rule with sharia law -- gathered at a public sports hall in Ankara, courtesy of the Turkish government, to discuss the re-establishment of the Islamic caliphate. In his speech, Mahmut Kar, the media bureau chief of Hizb-ut Tahrir Turkey said:
"Infidels who were enemies of Islam thought they buried Islam in the depths of history when they abolished the caliphate on March 3, 1924 ... We are hopeful, enthusiastic and happy. Some 92 years later... we are shouting out that we will re-establish the caliphate, here, right next to the parliament."
It was not a coincidence that an opposition MP on July 1 took the speaker's point at the Turkish parliament, showed a copy of a magazine, Dabiq, largely viewed as IS's press organ, to an audience and said: "This is [IS's] official magazine. It is published in Turkey. Its fifth issue is out now. The magazine creates propaganda for [IS]. It has an open address. Why does no one raid its offices?"
That question will probably remain unanswered.
Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a Turkish columnist for the Hürriyet Daily and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.