Turks feeling increasingly vulnerable after Istanbul airport bombing

For Turks, the Istanbul attack has left them feeling more vulnerable, especially since it was so indiscriminate. ISIS is believed to be behind the suicide bombing and has a strong network in the country. Judy Woodruff discusses the attack with Amberin Zaman of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and with special correspondent Jane Ferguson in Istanbul.

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    We return now to the terror attacks in Turkey with "NewsHour" special correspondent Jane Ferguson, who is in Istanbul, and Amberin Zaman. She's a journalist and a public policy scholar at the Wilson Center here in Washington.

    And we welcome both of you to the program.

    Jane, to you first. I know you have been reporting on this all day. What have you learned about where exactly these attacks at the airport took place?

  • JANE FERGUSON, Special Correspondent:

    Well, Judy, those blasts took place at the very entrance of the airport, basically at the door where you would have had people gathering in the street, getting out of taxies and trying to enter into the building.

    Ironically, that's actually where the security screening is in Istanbul Airport at Ataturk here behind me. They always screen bags of everybody who is coming into the airport. As soon as you get in through glass doors, there is a screening area and the bags have to go through the machine to be checked.

    And that's been in place for some time now. However, that also leads up to a buildup of people, and people will be there queuing to get in, so, of course, that makes it very vulnerable to such an attack right at the entrance there.


    Jane, you have also been out and around the city of Istanbul today. What are people saying? We know there have been a string of attacks in Turkey. Do they view this as just one more in what's been going on?


    Speaking at a people in a hospital today in the city where people are waiting anxiously to hear about their loved ones and their friends, people were saying that this attack seems to hit home even harder for them, partly because it was at an airport.

    One person said to me today that the airport should be the most secure area in the country, that those are places that are typically secure, places where typically there is a lot of police and there is a lot of checks. So people feel extremely vulnerable, and they're also pointing out this attack was extremely brazenly against civilians. That's something that's not lost on people here. Of course, many Turks killed as well, as civilians in this attack, and so people are increasingly feeling very vulnerable.


    Amberin Zaman, you know Turkey well. Officials say this has the earmarks of ISIS, but they don't know for sure. Why would ISIS want to make this kind of an attack?

    AMBERIN ZAMAN, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: Well, this isn't the first time that ISIS has attacked inside Turkey.

    This would be the seventh attack so far, but it's drawn a lot more attention, precisely as your correspondent was saying, because it's such a high-value target, it's an international airport. Last year, you had around 40 million people transit through Istanbul Airport. Let's not forget it's the holy month of Ramadan and that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, so, of course, that sort of has a multiplier effect in terms of the horror and indecency of it all.

    But Turkey, you know, is an active member of the anti-ISIS coalition, and since June 2015, it's allowed the anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States to fly missions, combat missions out of the Incirlik Air Base in Southern Turkey. Turkey itself has stepped up artillery attacks against ISIS.

    And since May, we think around 800 ISIS militants may have been killed in those attacks and a lot of pressure inside Turkey also against ISIS, where, sadly, ISIS is very well-organized.


    Well, tell us about that. I mean, how much of a presence does ISIS have inside Turkey?


    Well, the trajectory has been quite sort of sinuous.

    Initially, Turkey was not that concerned, or it certainly didn't seem to be that concerned by the ISIS threat. And, as you know, this term the jihadi highway was being applied to Turkey because they were so lax about the fighters that were going in and out of Turkey. And why? Because Turkey's stated policy in Syria is to overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad on the one hand and also to combat Kurdish separatists inside Northern Syria.

    And, of course, the conundrum is that those very same Kurdish separatists are the United States' top allies in the fight against ISIS, so it's a very complicated sort of architecture that we have there, but Turkey has not only used these rebel also against Assad, but also against the Kurds inside Northern Syria, because they regard them as a security threat.


    Back to you, Jane, there at the airport. Are you already seeing security stepped up? What are you seeing there?


    Well, it's interesting, Judy.

    Being at the airport earlier on today, things were getting back to normal at a remarkable pace. Huge amounts of travelers arriving and leaving. Of course, the area that had been bombed has been cordoned off now, and that will need to face a very large cleanup operation.

    But now what we're seeing is a little bit of extra security. We're seeing some extra police, police who are heavily armed. We're seeing cars that aren't allowed to stop in front of the building for a long period of time and they just need to drop off people and move on quickly.

    But we're not seeing anything significantly different, the usual security measures that I discussed earlier, where you enter through the glass doors and then you have to have your baggage checked. Those are still going on. That still seems to be the security protocol here.


    It is complicated.

    Amberin Zaman, thank you very much. And Jane Ferguson in Istanbul, thank you.

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