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The numbing predictability of the Istanbul tragedy

| blog, Islamic State, L&B World, Turkey, unrest | January 18, 2016



Istanbul's Blue Mosque two days after the attacks. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

(AFP/Ozan Kose)



"It’s conventional after attacks to express surprise and shock," writes Stuart Williams, AFP's Istanbul-based deputy bureau chief in Turkey.

"But when a suicide bomber ripped through a group of German tourists on a morning last week in central Istanbul the shock was genuine, but no-one could feign surprise. This was the attack that everyone had feared."



By Stuart Williams



Istanbul's Blue Mosque two days after the attacks. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

Istanbul's Blue Mosque two days after the attacks. (AFP/Ozan Kose)



Istanbul, Jan 18, 2016 -- It’s conventional after attacks to express surprise and shock. But when a suicide bomber ripped through a group of German tourists on Tuesday morning last week in central Istanbul the shock was genuine, but no-one could feign surprise. This was the attack that everyone had feared.

Attacks blamed on Islamic State (IS) jihadists had struck Turkey three times in 2015 -- once in Diyarbakir, once in the town of Suruc on the Syrian border, and then in Ankara where 103 people were killed in modern Turkey’s bloodiest ever attack.



Victims of the Ankara bombing on October 10, 2015. (AFP/Fatih Pinar)

Victims of the Ankara bombing on October 10, 2015. (AFP/Fatih Pinar)



An expected strike

It would only be a matter of time, we thought to ourselves, until terror struck in the heart of the milllenia-old, messy, overcrowded, cosmopolitan and enchanting metropolis that is Istanbul, possibly targeting one of the busiest tourist areas.

And this is what happened when Nabil Fadli, a 28-year old Syrian reportedly born in Saudi Arabia, detonated his charge on January 12 at 10:20 in the morning, just a few yards away from the iconic Ottoman-era Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet Square, the tourist hub of the city.



A Turkish riot police officer stands guard two days after the Istanbul attack. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

A Turkish riot police officer stands guard two days after the Istanbul attack. (AFP/Ozan Kose)



Sometimes at night I look out over the lights on Istanbul’s fabled skyline and wonder what is lying beneath this glittering beauty. We have long been aware of the existence of jihadist sleeper cells in Turkey comprising extremists who have spent time, gained bomb-making knowledge and been radicalised in Syria.

It was a question of where, when and how they would act. The city has been on edge for months, but particularly after the Ankara attacks. Walking in especially crowded areas, like Taksim Square or the packed Iskitlal Street, you feel constantly on alert. The Turkish authorities unquestionably have stepped up efforts in the last weeks to crack down on these cells, detaining hundreds of suspected jihadists.

The bomber exploded his charge right next to one of the most extraordinary sights in the entire city, the Obelisk of Theodosius. It’s a large column of stone commissioned by the pharaohs in the second millenium BC which was then shipped to the city by Roman Emperor Theodosius in the late fourth century AD. A magnificently sculpted base was added glorifying his own achievements, including the erection of the column.



The Obelisk of Theodosius at the site of the Istanbul attack. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

The Obelisk of Theodosius at the site of the Istanbul attack. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)



Normality returns, fear remains

Many times I had visited the column, to wonder at the hands that touched these stones, which have survived as generation after generation passed away and empires rose and fell. Probably the German tourists were thinking much the same when the horror struck.

The reaction of many in the city after the bombing, so early in the new year, was a numb fear: when will this happen again?

For now, no doubt encouraged by the municipal authorities, a semblance of normality has returned to the area. There are moving messages on the railings of the monument, which has been festooned with red carnations and adorned, most touchingly, by several football scarves of the popular German Bundesliga side. Guides can be heard rattling off the history of the monument, tourists hesitatingly take photographs, wondering if the site of the blast truly makes an appropriate holiday snap.



A makeshift memorial to the victims of the Istanbul attack. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

A makeshift memorial to the victims of the Istanbul attack. (AFP/Ozan Kose)



I believe the Turkish authorities were genuinely horrified by the attack and worried for its consequences, notably for the tourism industry. To their credit, the magnitude of the death toll and the nature of the blast was rapidly made clear in official statements. Strangely, it took some time however to make clear that all the dead were Germans, as if the fact that tourists from one single, key partner nation had been targeted (by design or accident) was just too much to take in at once.



Emergency personnel at the scene of the attack. (AFP/stringer)

Emergency personnel at the scene of the attack. (AFP/stringer)



Far less welcome was the news, hours after the bombing, that the authorities had slapped a so-called “broadcast ban” on coverage of the event. For an hour or so, this seemed to halt all live broadcasting from the scene. I saw one channel, its news ticker screaming red with the death toll, but showing pictures of a feature about scuba diving.

But in Turkey, the lines are never crystal clear. By their 1:00 pm news bulletins, all channels, including pro-government ones, appeared to have shaken off the absurdity of the broadcast ban and were broadcasting live from the scene.



Police stand guard at the site of the Istanbul attack. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

Police stand guard at the site of the Istanbul attack. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)



Authorities keep focus on PKK

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted swiftly to the news of the bombing, using a speech to Turkish ambassadors in Ankara to condemn it in unequivocal terms and confirm the bomber was of Syrian origin. But surprisingly, Erdogan did not dwell on the issue, spending much more time in a long and sometimes rambling address talking about Turkey’s fight against Kurdish militants.

Turkey’s offensive against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched in July is hugely controversial, with rights groups saying dozens of civilians have been killed, in particular in a succession of curfew operations since December which have seen three areas placed under a military lockdown to flush out the militants.



A funeral procession on January 12 for those killed during curfews in Turkey's restive southeast. (AFP/stringer)

A funeral procession on January 12 for those killed during curfews in Turkey's restive southeast. (AFP/stringer)



In typically combative form, the president then went on to take aim at over 1,000 Turkish academics and dozens of foreign professors (including the American linguist Noam Chomsky) who had signed a petition condemning a military crackdown in the Kurdish-dominated southeast. Refusing to let go of the issue, Erdogan launched a new attack against the academics on Thursday. By Friday several had been arrested as part of an investigation into alleged propaganda for a terror group.

The police have already made seven arrests over the Sultanahmet attack but the focus on a written petition seems a strange balance at a time when there is a such a concrete threat from extremists. The authorities have always made clear they make no distinction between IS and the PKK, which was blamed for a blood-curdling attack in the southeast overnight Wednesday to Thursday that killed six people, including three children.



Rescuers search through wreckage after a blast killed six in southeastern Turkey on January 14. (AFP/Ilyas Akengin)

Rescuers search through wreckage after a blast killed six in southeastern Turkey on January 14. (AFP/Ilyas Akengin)



In the meantime, fear and alarm will stalk the streets of Istanbul and many other Turkish cities. It has been noted repeatedly that IS has never claimed an attack in Turkey, in contrast to its usual brazen boasting about strikes elsewhere. We don’t understand how the group operates inside Turkey and what its specific objectives are. But Istanbul’s residents, and its visitors, many of whom fall so in love with the place they come time-and-time again, will be determined to continue as normal in the fact of this uncertainty.


Stuart Williams is AFP’s deputy bureau chief in Turkey, based in Istanbul. Follow him on Twitter.



A headline in German reads 'We mourn" in a Turkish newspaper the day after the Istanbul attack. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)

A headline in German reads 'We mourn" in a Turkish newspaper the day after the Istanbul attack. (AFP/Bulent Kilic)



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Terrorists could sabotage UK internet… but they’d probably target the power grid instead

| blog, Isis leader, Islamic State, L&B World, Paris attacks, Tech | December 9, 2015

Cyber experts believe terror groups could strike our power grid (Picture: Getty/Metro)
Cyber experts believe terror groups could strike our power grid (Picture: Getty/Metro)

Online terrorists would be able to take down the UK’s broadband network.

But cyber security specialists think they’d be more likely to target our power grid.

Mikko Hypponen, who advises governments in the UK, US and Asia about cyber security, said the broadband in Britain could be at risk from an attack.

Although Hypponen acknowledges terror groups like Islamic State pose a threat to our online security, he reckons they’d be more likely to target our electricity supply, which would have a catastrophic impact on the entire country.

He said:… Read the full story

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Syrian rebels prove they’re not like Isis with surprising ‘execution’ video

| blog, Isis leader, Islamic State, Islamic State (Isis), L&B World, Syria, World | December 9, 2015

Syrian rebels have produced an Isis-style execution video to prove they’re not like the extremists of Daesh.

Echoing the videos produced by Daesh, the would-be executioners dress from head to toe, covering their faces, while the condemned are in orange.

But at the end of the video there’s a major difference – nobody dies.

The rebels, from the Shamiya or Islamic Front put their guns in their holsters after the phrase ‘Muslims are not criminals’ appears on screen.

MORE: Britain’s war heroes throw medals away in disgust at bombing Syria

MORE: Survivors of Boko Haram: Abducted girls describe escaping the world’s deadliest terrorists

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U.S. is ‘running out’ of bombs to fight Islamic State

| blog, Islamic State, L&B World, Syria, World | December 6, 2015

The aftermath of an airstrike in Nawa city, Deraa, Syria, (Picture: REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir )
The aftermath of an airstrike in Nawa city, Deraa, Syria, (Picture: REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir )

The U.S. is running out of bombs to use in the fight against ISIS, a leading US general has said.

In a statement, US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said that the Air Force is now ‘expending munitions faster than we can replenish them.’

He said: ‘B1s have dropped bombs in record numbers. F15Es are in the fight because they are able to employ a wide range of weapons and do so with great flexibility.

‘We need the funding in place to ensure we’re prepared for… Read the full story

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As UK decides on airstrikes– here’s what the war in Syria actually looks like

| blog, Conservative Party, David Cameron, Islamic State, Jeremy Corbyn, L&B World, Labour Party, Syria, World | December 2, 2015

Headline: Aftermath of ISIL attack on outpost Ainissa Caption: Aftermath of ISIL attack on outpost Ainissa Dear Steven, On all articles please include the following credit: Exclusive pictures to ITV News with a full report to be broadcast on ITV News tonight. Each picture must be credited to Sean Swan/ITV News Publication of disturbing images at publishers’ discretion. Best wishes, Laura Photographer: Sean Swan/ITV News Loaded on 02/12/2015 at 12:10 Copyright: Provider: Sean Swan/ITV News
Aftermath of IS attack on outpost Ain Issa shows an undetonated suicide vest (Picture: Sean SwanITV News)

Today MPs are debating if the UK should launch airstrikes on Syria.

The US, France and Russia are already carrying… Read the full story

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Family who fled Syria for Australia prove that life wasn’t so different there after all

| blog, Islamic State, L&B World, Syria, World | November 29, 2015

(Picture: Bilouna family)
(Picture: Bilouna family)

This family photo looks like any other scene of happiness at a gathering of relatives – but it was taken in the Syrian city of Aleppo three years ago, before Islamic State militants took control and tore the city apart.

Now, these photos of tranquillity have been shared by a family that has since moved to Australia, in a bid to prove that things weren’t so different before they were forced to flee.

Johnny Bilouna, 37, and wife Carol, 32, left the city with their two children, Joseph, 12, and Wendy, 8 – abandoning a thriving business and a comfortable home as IS forces took control of the city.

Johnny… Read the full story

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Nutella refuses to print personalised jar for girl named Isis

| blog, Food, Islamic State, Islamic State (Isis), L&B World, Weird | November 27, 2015

 Nutella denied five-year-old Isis a name-your-own jar of the chocolate spread
Nutella denied five-year-old Isis a name-your-own jar of the chocolate spread

Nutella have refused to print a personalised label on a jar for a five-year-old girl, because she is called Isis.

Heather Taylor’s children, Isis and her brother Odhinn, were shopping with their auntie at a department store in Shellharbour, Australia – when she purchased the jars as a treat for the children.

But while her brother’s name was eventually accepted after being flagged by a computer, a store manager refused to print the girl’s name – which is originally rooted in Egyptian mythology.

Posting on Facebook, Ms Taylor wrote: ‘We have just been… Read the full story

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Man paid a friend to fake an Isis bomb threat so he could avoid work

| blog, Islamic State, Islamic State (Isis), L&B World, UK | November 25, 2015

Aaron O'Neill outside court (Picture: Collins)
Aaron O’Neill outside court (Picture: Collins)

We’ve all had days when going to work just seems like the worst thing in the world (except me if you’re reading, editor).

But we’d probably advise against paying a friend to hoax call police with an Isis bomb threat.

Aaron O’Neill decided against all the usual pulling a sickie excuses when he wanted the day off from tech company Intel.

The 20-year-old sub-contractor paid pal Colin Hammond, 21, to stage a bomb threat from Islamic State.

According to the Irish Times, the men had been out drinking and taking tablets the night before the 6am bomb threat was made.

Hammond called using… Read the full story

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The Islamic State has opened fairgrounds for children, and it’s as disturbing as it sounds

| blog, Islamic State, L&B World, World | October 3, 2015

The Islamic State has opened two fairgrounds in Fallujah and Raqqah.
The Islamic State has opened two fairgrounds in Fallujah and Raqqah.

These could be the most depressing theme parks on earth.

The Islamic State claims to have opened two fairgrounds for children living under their tyrannous regime.

A set of photos released by the terror group show children laughing and smiling as they ‘enjoy’ a number of grim-looking rides, including spinning tea cups, a shaky Ferris wheel and rusty swing sets.

raqqa8

raqqa7

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The two parks were reportedly opened in Fallujah in Iraq, and in the group’s Syrian capital Raqqa, to mark Eid-al-Adha last week.

But… Read the full story

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