“Reina” New Year club attack in Istanbul:  first comments – by Maria Chr. Alvanou

Year 2017 entered in Turkey with a horrific attack that occurred inside the nightclub “Reina” at the Ortaköy area in Istanbul. Terrorism seems to have come literarily out of the bag of Santa Claus and it is a ”gift” we will have to deal with also during this year.

Entertainment places have been an ideal target for terrorists to act. We can remember the horrific attacks that took place in the “Puddy’s Pub” (Bali) and the “Dolphinarium” (Tel Aviv). It is an ideal choice, as the perpetrator has the chance to spread death against lots of people that are gathered in a closed space, in a relaxed mood that prevents alertness.

We are waiting for the investigation of the attack to find out all its parameters. A video circulated  in the news shows one perpetrator dressed like Santa Claus who committed the terror act, but we cannot be sure whether he acted alone or there was an accomplish inside or even outside the club (“Reina” like many clubs situated on the Bosporus has a side  on the coastline, facing the sea). During the writing of this article, the attacker is perceived to have fled the scene alive and is still wanted, with no clue about his identity.

There are some important indications that show possibly an islamist hand behind the attack: First of all, the attack took place inside a nightclub in a prestigious area of Istanbul, frequented by local celebrities, but also foreigners. We already know that among the victims there are many foreigners and groups affiliated with the kurdish cause (the other usual suspect when considering terror in Turkey) prefer to attack targets that result in victims among the turkish army, police etc. PKK, TAK etc do not wish to open a front with the international community. On the other hand, the islamist network actually wishes to spread death to victims of different international nationalities. For the Islamist, everyone except themselves is an enemy and especially foreigners from the decadent West. Another point to highlight is the timing (New Year) and that the perpetrator was dressed as Santa Claus. Though Turkey has predominantly muslim population, many western and christian traditions are followed as popular customs. There are christmas trees nearly everywhere and New Year is celebrated according to the christian-Gregorian calendar (lets not forget that January the 1st is not the entrance of a new year for Muslims, neither 2017 is calculated according to Islam). Strict religious circles and Islamists are highly critical about this “westernization” of the Turks and see it as a sign of degeneration and religious treason. A Santa Claus entering a nightclub, who instead of gifts bringing death is an act that mocks the western type of celebration for the New Year and is “taking revenge” for the “apostasy”  of those Muslims who have strayed from the right path.

From an operational point of view, there is one thing we can underline: If this indeed is an attack under the islamist umbrella, it would be the third time (after Paris and Berlin) that the perpetrator is not carrying out a “martyrdom operation”, he is not staying at the scene to die, but he attacks and escapes. Thus he undertakes a (very) high risk mission, but still not a suicide mission. Should we see more of this type of attacks (resembling “commando” hits), this could be a trend signaling that not only we have what has been named as “hybrid attacks” and “Middle Eastern attacks”, but further more that we are moving towards a more “guerilla” type of war waged by the Islamists inside our cities. If this is the case we have to consider the personalities and traits of those recruited by the islamist extremist network or those who take action as “lone wolves”.

Recently it is steadily commented that Turkey is facing a very serious terrorism menace in many fronts, since the country has to deal with both the islamist network and the various kurdish organizations. Another aspect of the problem is that the country faces now attacks like those Israel has been suffering for many years now, perpetrated by palestinian organizations. “Intifada” practices are now in the turkish backyard. Probably as a situational prevention measure, we could see in the future turkish nightclubs- like in Israel- imposing a policy of checking the guests at the entrance (for carrying arms and explosives). Apart from practical counter-terror measures, as Turkey is countering “intifada type” of terror, this will have to affect also the way it views terror in other countries (and especially in Israel). For example it will be problematic and an oxymoron, if the country kept the same rhetoric and stance about Hamas, when it struggles against the same kind of activity in its soil. The terror brought by 2016 and 2017 in Turkey demands changes not only inside the country, but also regarding its foreign policy.