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Turkish Airport Attackers From Former Soviet Space (Or Not)

The men who carried out the terrorist attack on Turkey’s key airport were from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Turkish officials believe they were ISIS-related. CNN:

Turkish authorities have now detained 22 people in connection with the Ataturk Airport attack, a Turkish official told CNN on Thursday.

[…]
The official also said that Turkey has determined the attackers who carried out Tuesday’s shootings and suicide bombings were from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
[…]
As Turkey flew flags at half-staff to observe a day of mourning Wednesday, questions remained on who was behind the attack.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proclaimed the terror attack “will not divide or split our country.” Officials blamed the attack on ISIS, the abhorred terror group based in neighboring Syria.
[…]
“All information and evidence” points to ISIS, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said. “But nothing is for certain.”
Clive Irving agrees that it is ISIS-connected but offers a twist:
Most experts agree that the Istanbul atrocity has the hallmarks of ISIS. Even then, the sophistication of how the attack was carried out has surprised them.
It was carried out in a way that suggests the kind of advance intelligence, careful study of a target, and cool execution that would normally be practised by Western special forces.
There were three phases. It began with an attack in a car park adjacent to the international arrivals terminal. The purpose was to draw security staff away from the terminal.
The attackers obviously knew that security at the terminal itself had recently been hardened, as a response to the  Brussels attack, where the bombers had exploited the fact that, as in many airports, there was no security threshold before the check-in desks.
In Istanbul anyone entering the arrivals terminal faced screening and checks at the doors. The car park diversion achieved its aim of drawing police and security staff from the building’s first line of defense-and left vulnerable scores of people at the taxi and drop-off area waiting to go through security.
This was where the second attack was carried out, causing most of the casualties: 41 dead, more than 200 injured. The blast effect of this attack breached the doors and security cordon, allowing a third attacker to get inside the building. As seen in a chilling video from a security camera this attacker, wearing a suicide belt, was tackled by a guard who forced him to the floor. From the video it seems that the guard died while trying to prevent the attacker from detonating the suicide belt-an act of supreme bravery.
Even though the Turks moved the security perimeter outward to reinforce what is called landside defenses (as opposed to airside, where the gates and airplanes are), the body advising European airports, Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, was amazingly complacent after the Brussels attack.
They said, “The possible adoption of additional security measures such as checks on persons and goods entering airport landside spaces could be disruptive and actually create new security vulnerabilities.” They added that it would amount to “moving the target” rather than securing it. They also said-revealing their deepest concern-that such changes would cost money.
There’s a lot to unwrap here and much of this strikes me as speculative. To the extent ISIS is behind this attack, it would seem to be in the way that al Qaeda launched attacks post-9/11: as a branding and inspiration concept vice a traditional terrorist organization.  If they’re now attracting/inspiring highly trained former special operators, it definitely ups their capability.
UPDATE (8:38):  CNN has posted an update to the piece that seems to contradict the rest of it:
Turkish officials have strong evidence that the Istanbul airport attackers came from the Syrian ISIS stronghold of Raqqa and that the group’s leadership was involved in the planning of the attack, a senior Turkish government source told CNN Thursday.
As I noted earlier, this all seems speculative.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.