“Secret actors” were behind the terrorist attack that killed 10 people in Istanbul on Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.
“Turkish security forces are trying to reveal who used Daesh as a ‘subcontractor,'” he said, according to a translation provided by the Turkish Enligh-language newspaper Daily Sabah.
Davutoglu was evidently hinting at the role a foreign power or external actor may have had in “contracting” ISIS to carry out Tuesday’s terror attack in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square.
Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert and senior resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, said Davutoglu’s comments were likely a subtle dig at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Turkey’s government staunchly opposes.
“RTE and Davutoglu have a consistent talking point regarding the ‘foreign power’ controlling ISIS: It is a reference to Assad,” Stein said on Twitter. (The “RTE” referred to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president.)
Davutoglu said that the Istanbul bomber entered Turkey from Syria as a “migrant,” before accusing
the Syrian government of helping the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) transfer militants to Northern Syria to fight the moderate opposition operating along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Indeed, some experts have noted that Russian airstrikes and advancements by pro-regime forces in the north have created an opening for ISIS to move fighters into spaces once controlled by anti-ISIS rebels and Kurds.
That said, the capture of Tishrin Dam from ISIS last month by the Kurds — whose territorial expansion Turkey opposes — was “a huge first step for the Kurds in clearing out the remaining border strip controlled by IS along the Turkish border,” Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a Kurdish affairs expert embedded in Iraqi Kurdistan, told Business Insider at the time.
In any case, Turkey has experienced significant blowback within its borders since joining the anti-ISIS coalition in July, largely owing to the relaxed border policies Ankara adopted between 2011 and 2014 which enabled foreign fighters to travel to Syria and enter the fight against Assad.
The policy also allowed ISIS militants to form a network within Turkey as they were permitted to cross and operate along Turkey’s southern border with relative freedom.
Thirty-three people were killed in the southeastern border town of Suruc in July when a suicide bomber linked to ISIS detonated himself. In October, an ISIS-linked suicide bomber killed more than 100 people at a peace rally in Ankara.
Seven people, including three Russians, have been detained so far in connection with Tuesday’s attack.
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