August 22, 2016
TSG IntelBrief: Attacking a Wedding in Turkey
As terror attacks go, few targets have a more chilling impact than attacks against celebratory events such as weddings. While the so-called Islamic State has not claimed credit for the August 21 bombing in Gaziantep, Turkey that killed at least 50 and wounded 67 more, Turkish officials stated they believe the group is responsible. The Islamic State has never claimed credit for a terror attack in Turkey, though it has done so for several assassinations of Syrians inside Turkey. Still, the group has a long history of targeting weddings, stretching back to the days when the group was known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. The wedding party targeted in Gaziantep was Kurdish, who have been among the most effective groups fighting the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq. While attacking the Kurds gives the Islamic State some measure of revenge, it will also further aggravate tensions between the Turkish government and its Kurdish population.
The Gaziantep attack symbolizes how the recent age of terror has pulled children into its orbit. Of the victims, twenty-two were children under the age of 14. The bomber was himself a child; Turkish officials said he was between 12 and 14 years old. The Islamic State boasts of its so-called ‘Cubs of the Caliphate,’ and has shown children—some quite young—engaged in executions. Of the group’s many war crimes, forcing children to kill in its name ranks among the Islamic State’s worst and most damaging.
Even in areas of heightened risk such as Gaziantep, weddings represent celebrations that look towards the future with optimism and excitement. Terror attacks against weddings, therefore, deliberately take advantage of the festive environment to both maximize body counts and crush the hopeful future that surrounds such events—maximizing the psychological impact of the attack. Forcing a child to serve as mass executioner makes detection and disruption more difficult, as people are not programmed to see young children as threats.
The Islamic State has targeted weddings before; one of more infamous attacks by al-Qaeda in Iraq was against a wedding in 2005. The November 2005 hotel bombings in Amman, Jordan, involved three separate attacks, the deadliest of which targeted a wedding party in the Raddison SAS hotel. The attack killed 38 people, including family of the bride and groom. The attackers were a husband and wife pair; Sajida al-Rishawi tried to detonate her vest but it malfunctioned. She left the hotel and was later arrested, while her husband went on to murder 38 people. In May 2008, a woman pretending to be pregnant detonated a suicide vest along a wedding procession in Balad Ruz, Iraq. The attack killed 36 people celebrating the wedding and wounded 67 more.
After years of war and cross border smuggling and infiltration, the Islamic State has a sizable number of members and supporters along Turkey's souther border to plan and conduct attacks. Turkey has already been pressuring the group, and has said it will respond forcefully to this latest attack. As the Islamic State continues to see its fortunes wane in Syria, the frequency and severity of attacks in Turkey—particularly in the border region—will likely increase significantly.
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