Terror’s toll in Turkey could test NATO resolve

January 2, 2017 GMT

The recent surge in terror attacks in Turkey — including yesterday’s massacre at an Istanbul nightclub where a gunman shot at least 39 people dead and left scores wounded — could begin to test the resolve of NATO and others, including the United States, in their willingness to aid the volatile country against a rise in blood-soaked terrorism, analysts say.

“There are concerns about the degree to which this is going to resonate in other parts of ­Europe,” said Natana DeLong-Bas, a Boston College professor and expert on Islam and the Middle East. “It can go in either direction. It’s a test of how serious NATO is about the alliance. It may be a test case of the seriousness and willingness of stepping up to defend Turkey or whether NATO says it isn’t worth it.

“I think we’re reaching a point where we’re going to see a rising number of attacks,” DeLong-Bas added. “And I really hate saying that.”

Yesterday’s early-morning attack on New Year’s Eve revelers at the Reina club marked the fourth major incident in Turkey in less than a month, a toll that includes a car bomb attack that killed 44 policemen outside an Istanbul soccer stadium and the assassination of the Russian ambassador at an art gallery event.

The unidentified gunman, who was armed with a long-barreled weapon, was still on the run last night, authorities said.

Nearly two-thirds of the people killed in the nightclub assault were foreigners, many from the Middle East, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, which said the bodies of 25 foreign nationals would be delivered to their families today.

An 18-year-old Israeli woman, three Indians, three Lebanese, a woman with dual French-Tunisian citizenship and her Tunisian husband, three Jordanians, a Belgian national, a Kuwaiti citizen and a Canadian were among the dead, according to the countries’ governments and a diplomat. A U.S. State Department official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said an American man was among the wounded.

Complicating the spike in violence, experts say, is the wide range of actors at play in Turkey. Months after an unsuccessful coup, the government and its heavy-handed crackdown on its citizenry has created various enemies, and the attack outside the soccer stadium was purportedly carried out by separatist Kurdish militants.

As of yesterday, no one had claimed responsibility for the nightclub attack, but it mirrored previous assaults inspired or coordinated elsewhere by the Islamic State. Meanwhile, the war in Syria is playing out just across the border, making Turkey an increasingly volatile buffer between Europe and the battlefield.

“Turkey, in a sense, is being hit from all sides, and with that many enemies, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see Turkey as the focal point of terrorist attacks,” said William Keylor, a Boston University professor of international relations. “NATO is very important to keep in mind. If Turkey ever comes under attack from some group or some state, that would run the risk of activating the NATO treaty, which means the U.S. is committed to its defense. That’s one joker in the deck there.”

Jenny White, a professor at the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, said the “post-coup purges” have decimated the military and the police force, sapping them of many experienced, high-level officers, all while the government “has tried to keep news about terrorist acts away from the population.”

“This has clearly affected the ability of Turkey to interdict and respond to security threats,” White said.

But she doubts that yesterday’s terrorist attack will help push NATO into action, given a terrorist attack alone can’t spur its involvement.

“The alliance is meant to protect its members in case of attack by another country,” White said. “The deteriorating security situation in Turkey is largely due to internal events and calculations, with spillover from Syria.”

Herald wire services contributed to this report.