Turkish Authorities announced Wednesday that they had detained seven people in connection with a suicide bombing in Istanbul earlier this week. The blast, in the central historical district, marks the first terrorist attack this year after a series of bloody bombings in 2015.
The Turkish interior minister Efkan Ala refused to name the suspects during a press conference, but did identify the bomber as Nabil Fadil. Born in Saudi Arabia and holding Syrian citizenship, Fadil had entered Turkey earlier this year from Syria saying that he sought refugee status. At the time Turkish security forces did not know he had links to Islamic State or terrorism.
The attack will bring renewed scrutiny to Ankara’s handling of the country’s long, porous border with Syria. Even though Turkey restricted most land crossing points to Syrian refugees late last year, Western countries have long complained about the ease with which both migrants and potential terrorists leave Syria. Moving in the other direction, radicalized young men from Europe and the Middle East often transit through Turkey to join Islamic State fighters in Syria, helping to inflame the conflict.Flanking Interior Minister Ala at the news conference was his German counterpart, Thomas de Maizière, whose government confirmed later in the day that 10 of the 11 people killed in the bombing were German tourists. Many of the victims were on a tour run by a Berlin-based company. However, it is unknown if the bomber had targeted Germans specifically or just western-looking tourists. Up to fifty other people were also injured in the bombing.
Turkish leaders in Ankara have begun to address the problem, with increasing sea patrols, building concrete barriers near the border, and loosening the rules of engagement for troops who intercept smugglers. U.S. officials have set up a shared terrorist list with the Turkish authorities to help flag jihadists claiming refugee status. The EU has pledged more than $3 billion to help refugees in Turkey, in exchange for increased security measures.
However, these measures might have already come too late. At least four other Islamic State terrorist attacks, including two suicide bombers, targeted Kurds and security installations last year.