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Here’s Why ISIS Probably Won’t Claim Responsibility For Istanbul

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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The Islamic State has been quick to claim terror attacks across the globe, and both U.S. and Turkish officials believe the group was likely behind the Istanbul attack Tuesday. So why hasn’t the group claimed responsibility?

Three suicide bombers carrying guns killed 41 civilians and wounded 239 in the late hours of June 28 at Istanbul Ataturk International Airport. U.S. Counter-terrorism officials and experts largely agree the attack was the work of the Islamic State, yet no group has taken responsibility.

One likely explanation is that ISIS historically does not claim its attacks in Turkey, in an effort to avoid a potentially devastating bombing campaign from its nearby neighbor. The group has not claimed responsibility for a string of recent suicide bombings targeting tourists and civilian targets throughout Istanbul in the last year, although Turkish officials have unequivocally ruled ISIS is responsible for the string of suicide attacks.

ISIS has gone out of its way not to mention the Istanbul attack in the immediate aftermath. In the group’s daily Turkish bulletin it made no mention of the attack, and on its official distribution channels it sent out mundane photos of Syrian fighters posing with guns.

ISIS may have left some clues as to why it probably won’t claim the attack in an infographic created to commemorate two years since the declaration of the caliphate. The infographic lists countries where ISIS maintains a “presence of covert units.” Turkey, along with Algeria and Saudi Arabia, is included on the list. ISIS thus is tacitly confirms it conducts attacks across Turkey, but considers its attacks there different from its other global activities.

Soner Cagaptay, a Turkish expert at The Washington Institute, reasons in an op-ed for CNN, “for a very long time, the relationship between ISIS and Turkey looked like a Cold War, with both sides avoiding fighting each other.” Cagaptay believes ISIS does not take responsibility for such attacks to “create an environment of suspicion in Turkish politics.”

Cagaptay elaborated that ISIS is playing along the social fault lines of Turkey, trying to provoke a response which will fracture Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s hold on power. Erdogan confirmed in the immediate aftermath of the attack that all signs pointed to ISIS being responsible for the attack.

Michael Weiss, an ISIS expert who writes for The Daily Beast, noted on CNN that ISIS wants Turkey to focus its efforts on the Kurds. Turkey has often bombed Kurdish positions inside Syria to prevent them from gaining too much power. ISIS does not want to draw the full force and firepower of Turkey upon its nearby positions in northern Syria.

Cagaptay noted that if Turkey can confirm ISIS is responsible, “Turkey’s vengeance will come down like rain from hell.”

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