Western Agencies Knew a Lot – But Not Enough to Thwart Istanbul Terror Strike
Western counterterrorism agencies, including those of Turkey, were fully apprised, ahead of Istanbul’s Ataturk airport attack on June 28 – which left 42 dead and hundreds injured – that an Islamic State terror attack was coming – just as they had pre-knowledge of the atrocities that killed 130 people in Paris last November and the Brussels outrage in March.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report these agencies have built up almost encyclopedic files on ISIS terror mechanisms, with full notes on the addresses of the secret hub and training facilities, the sources of weapons-grade explosives for suicide bomb belts and even the departure dates of teams of terrorists bent on mass murder.
They have marked the ISIS launching pad for those teams at Gaziantep, a town located in the western part of the southeastern Anatolia region of Turkey, some 185 km east of Adana and 97 km north of the Syrian town of Aleppo.
This ISIS departure point for its terrorists is surrounded by “neighbors”: Turkey’s MIT General Intelligence, the American CIA, and the British secret service and domestic security agency, MI6 and MI5.
Although they all share the same terrain, they stay at arm’s length from each other because, according to the rules of classical intelligence-gathering, it is not done to impede the work of inside informers. By the same token, none of them contemplated blowing up the ISIS hub in Gaziantep in 2015, although by then it had become Terror Central for jihadist operations across Europe.
US and Turkish agencies also know that the extra-powerful exploding bomb vests are manufactured in workshops at Adiyaman, capital of the southeastern Turkish province of that name, around 111km from Gaziantep.
Western undercover agents were therefore in position to spot the hit teams setting out from their home base for action. They also knew the pickup points for the suicide bombers to collect their bomb vests.
But they were unable to dig out five essential pieces of information that would have enabled them to prevent an attack:
1. The identities and nationalities of the suicide bombers.
Later they were discovered to be of Russian, Uzbek and Kyrgyz nationality.
Akhmed Chatayev was identified on a UN sanctions list as an ISIS leader and was wanted by Russian authorities. Osman Vadinov arrived in Turkey in 2015 from Raqqa.
2. The number of terror cells and the countries of their destination. ISIS uses bogus cells as red herrings to mislead intelligence agents on their trail.
3. The number of explosive belts and weapons smuggled from Adiyaman to the West and the identities of their recipients.
4. The list of ISIS targets.
5. How ISIS determines the dates of its attacks. Intelligence services believe that it is decided by commanders of terror cells according to local conditions.
That is why CIA Director John Brennan could say confidently on June 29 that “the attack in Istanbul has the earmarks of strikes by Islamic State militants. If anyone here believes the US homeland is hermetically sealed and that ISIS would not consider that, I would guard against it.”
In other words, Brennan does not know for certain, but is working on the assumption that in the same way that ISIS planted bomber cells in Europe, it has also done so in the US and various Middle Eastern countries.
This means that the methods Western intelligence agencies use to thwart ISIS have not so far caught up with the threat and the Islamist terrorists are still ahead of the game.