Lost in the horror and carnage of the Istanbul Airport Attack is understanding and context. 44 died and 230 were wounded or injured in the attack this week on Istanbul’s airport. ISIS has claimed responsibility. The attackers had links to ISIS. That is just part of the story, By the numbers:

  1. Number of ISIS fighters estimated at between 70 and 150,000 based on widely ranging estimates from Russian, Iraqi, Turkish and American intelligence sources. An estimated 25 to 40,000 are foreign fighters, or between 25 and 30%. Most of those come from western countries where they have greater guaranteed individual freedoms than under ISIS.Chart showing nationalities of foreign fighters
  2. An estimated 2200 ISIS fighters come from Neighboring Turkey.
  3. All three suicide attackers were foreign born, apparently from former southern Soviet states where ISIS recruits aggressively. Akhmed Chatayev, was reportedly a Chechen. Chechnya was the site of a brutal war for separation from the Russian federation in the mid1990s, that many Chechens liken to a genocide. Conservatively, 160,000 died during the war. Osman Vadinov has also been identified as an attacker. It is believed all three came from Chechnya, Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan.
  4. Economic issues are a common denominator for many would-be jihadists.
  5. Criminality is also a denominator. Many of the Brussels and Paris attackers had criminal records. The Orlando attacker had a history of spousal abuse and violent outbursts.
  6. Islam may be part of the story, but it is not the only  story, just the only one being told.
  7. The unemployment rate for Chechnya, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan 7% and 10% respectively. Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have high poverty rates at 40 and 20% respectively. Chechnya’s economy has not recovered from the war and is effectively under Russian occupation. Numerous human rights violations have been reported and documented, including torture and mass murder.
  8. Russia is engaged in warfare with ISIS.
  9. Turkey has a complex relationship with ISIS.
  10. Turkey shot down a Russian Warplane last year.
  11. Turkey and Israel announced an agreement for a gas pipeline recently. Turkey - israel pipeline map
  12. Israel has targeted ISIS fighters threatening its borders in the Sinai.
  13. In May ISIS specifically threatened a global war on Israel, stating that “war on Israel will not be limited by geographical boundaries or by international norms.”
  14. There have been 17 ISIS-credited bombings across Turkey in recent months.
  15. The Erdogan government in Turkey has tacitly supported ISIS. This from the Jerusalem Post: “the success of ISIS is partly the result of the role played by Turkey. Ankara allows overseas volunteers to flock to ISIS training camps in Iraq. The same Turkish route is used by foreign experts that operate the oil infrastructure captured by ISIS. It is Turkish territory that is used to resupply ISIS and to treat their wounded. It is money from Gulf States that subsidizes ISIS activities. Even the recent Turkish formal agreement to join the coalition against ISIS does not change much as Ankara’s primary targets are the Kurds and evidence shows that ISIS still receives Turkish limited support.”
  16. There are indications they had help on the inside at the airport. They got through at least one checkpoint without being searched.
  17.  ISIS is a convenient tool for the US as well. From the same jpost piece:The American administration has good reasons to inflate the threat from ISIS. It is using the grand threat of ISIS to legitimize Iran as a “responsible” actor (that will, supposedly, fight ISIS) in Middle East affairs. This has been part of the Obama administration’s rationale for its nuclear deal with Iran.
  18. Turkey is on the brink of civil war. Rukmini Callimachi, a New York Times correspondent based in Istanbul, has reported this week on Turkey’s complicated relationship with ISIS. “It’s not clear if it was more turning a blind eye rather than providing actual support,” Callimachi explains. Either way, she says, ISIS recruits were able to travel freely through Turkey well into 2015. ISIS transferred supplies, including arms from sympathetic regional players, through Turkey. Sick and wounded fighters went to Turkey for medical care. And fighters sent and received money using Western Union offices in southern Turkey, just across the border from Syria.
  19. A Civil War in Turkey  strengthens ISIS, imperils Europe and the West, isolates Israel, drives a global economic catastrophe in oil prices and destabilizes NATO
  20. The airport attack marked two years to the day that ISIS declared its caliphate.
  21. ISIS encourages attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This from an Islamic website on why:  “Because they are terroist not muslims. if they are muslim real muslim as they call themselves then they were still in a masjid(Mosque) , not in anyone’s home looting and molesting innocent people. not beheading people on little mistake. IF they are real muslim they forgive them in this great month. The almighty ALLAH forgive all his sons and daughter sins who bag mercy in this great month. They(ISIS) are evil’s sons who want to destroy the world for their own good.”  
  22. During the Second World War the Allies battled more than 25 million Axis fighters on 4 continents and 6 oceans and seas, in mountains, deserts, cities, forests, Jungles and in the air. The war was concluded in 5 years.
  23. ISIS began with an estimated 30,000 fighters in a narrow band of desert, selling blackmarket oil on the international market to build revenues. At that time the US was more focused on punishing Russia by driving down the price of oil.
  24. The US, Turkey and Russia are less at war with ISIS than playing the angles for strategic benefit.
  25. Millions of dead and wounded, from Syria to Iraq, Paris to San Bernardino, sinking Mediterranean ships to an Istanbul airport are the pawns in those strategic efforts.





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