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Jul 20, 2015 | 15:57 GMT

3 mins read

The Islamic State Retaliates Against Turkey

(DEPO PHOTOS/AFP/Getty Images)

The Islamic State appears to have begun retaliating against Turkey's recent efforts to combat the group. On July 20, a suicide bombing suspected to be linked to the Islamic State killed at least 27 people and wounded 100 more at a cultural center in the Turkish town of Suruc, near the Syrian border. The attack follows numerous threats made by the Islamic State in response to the Turkish government's crackdown on the group's Turkish network, mobilization of troops to the Turkey-Syria border, and pressure on the Islamic State's supply line in Turkey.

The bombing was carried out in the vicinity of an event at the cultural center, against a soft target and among large crowds. The event drew many volunteers from Istanbul who were on their way to perform relief work in the Syrian city of Kobani. The Islamic State's extensive reach throughout Turkey means it has the capacity to carry out similar attacks in the future. This is particularly true in the region near the Syrian border, where the Islamic State has built up a vast network of safe-houses and agents who facilitate the transfer of recruits and supplies into Syria.

Turkey's decision to crack down on the Islamic State's network in the country left the group with two options: First, it could respond by retaliating against Turkey with terrorist attacks and cross-border raids launched from Syria. Second, the Islamic State could choose not to retaliate to avoid a broader Turkish offensive that could potentially include attacks against Islamic State targets within Syria. Of the two courses of action, the second was always rather unlikely given the Islamic State's previous behavior and its propensity to respond to any pressure with force.

Turkey's response to the attack could determine the course of events in the region. It is highly unlikely that Turkey will back away from its current efforts against the Islamic State; instead, the government will likely intensify its operations against the group within Turkey to further degrade its ability to carry out similar attacks in the future. The more important question, though, is whether Turkey will escalate its efforts by attacking Islamic State targets inside Syria, which could herald a more active Turkish role in the broader regional conflict.

Yet the continued constraints on Turkish military action beyond the country's borders make it unlikely that the Suruc attack, which occurred close to the Syrian border and far from Turkey's biggest cities, would push the Turks to dramatically ramp up their use of military force against the Islamic State in Syria. If, however, Islamic State attacks against Turkey intensify or take place in more sensitive areas of the country, such a response could become increasingly likely. Meanwhile, the Turkish government could try to use the security crisis to postpone elections or to garner popular political support.  

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