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Why ISIS Would Be Motivated To Strike Inside Turkey


Turkey's prime minister says he knows who's behind an attack on the Istanbul airport. The prime minister is blaming ISIS, the Islamic State. We're going to talk about this and much more with Henri Barkey. He is the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. And he is in Istanbul. Welcome to the program, sir. Thank you. What evidence here points to ISIS?

HENRI BARKEY: I don't know what the Turkish government has in terms of evidence. But it has all the earmarks of an ISIS attack. I mean, if you look at what's happening in Syria at the moment, the town of Manbij, which is one of the two major towns controlled by ISIS, is being attacked by a combination of American Air Force and Syrian Kurds. And ISIS is trying to use the tension that exists between the United States and the Turkish government about the use of Syrian Kurds in fighting ISIS.

INSKEEP: Let's just remember here, the Americans are on the same side as the Kurds against ISIS. Turkey is on the same side as the United States, but Turkey has its issues with Turkish Kurds, particularly. So that does make this very complicated.

BARKEY: And also Syrian Kurds because the Syrian Kurds are allied with the Turkish Kurds. And that's a problem.

INSKEEP: Americans will look at this attack and think about the recent attack on Orlando or last year's attack on San Bernardino. In those cases, you had one or two individuals who seem to have radicalized on their own. Does this attack on Istanbul's airport seem like something a little larger than that?

BARKEY: Oh, yes. I don't think it's the same kind of attack as Orlando, where, actually, the guy really did not know much about ISIS. But I would say the difference is that here in Turkey, because Turkey borders Syria, because a great number of, maybe, 80 to 90 percent of the fighters came through Turkey, you have an infrastructure that supports them, I mean, because a guy lands in Istanbul airport then he has to make his way to the Syrian border and has to cross the border. And to do that, you need safe houses. You need transportation networks. So it's different than what we have in United States, which is kind of lone-wolf attacks. Here, it's organized.

INSKEEP: Did Turkey, until now, overlook the threat from the Islamic State because it was so busy fighting Kurds, so busy dealing with Syria's government and so forth?

BARKEY: No, originally, Turkey did encourage people to come and fight against Bashar Assad's regime in Syria. The problem is that, eventually, the guys who are going to Syria morphed into ISIS. But initially, the Turks were supporting another organization, which is now kind al-Qaida offshoot.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. You're saying Turkey allowed people to flow through the country thinking that they would - they might join an Islamist group, but at least they'd be fighting Bashar al-Assad. And they ended up joining ISIS.

BARKEY: Yes. Look, because Turkey, at the beginning was very anxious to see Bashar al-Assad go, and the opposition that emerged against Assad proved to be incapable of taking Assad down. So in his frustration, he kind of allowed Islamists to cross because the Islamists - the jihadis were much better fighters than the traditional secular Syrian fighters. Therefore, the hope was that these guys would deliver the coup de gras, if you want, on the Assad regime. But that didn't work either. And we have this stalemate in Syria today.

INSKEEP: Henri Barkey is director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He spoke with us by Skype. Thank you, sir.

BARKEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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