Following an attack on Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport believed to have been orchestrated by the Islamic State, Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that the attack proved the group was “desperate” and “know [they] are losing.”
Kerry spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival late Tuesday and asserted that the Islamic State did have the capacity to commit bombings, sieges, and other large-scale terrorist attacks, but argued nonetheless that the group is desperate.
“It has been more than one year since Daesh has actually launched a full scale military offensive, and that’s because our coalition is moving relentlessly on every front,” he said; “…if you’re desperate and if you know you are losing, and you know you want to give up your life, then obviously you can do some harm.” He argued that successfully executing a terrorist attack requires terrorists to “get it right for ten minutes or one hour,” a minimal amount of time that does not take preparation into account.
Kerry neither confirmed nor denied reports that Turkish officials believed the Islamic State to have orchestrated the attack. “We are still collecting information and trying to ascertain what happened and who did it and I won’t comment further on it except to say that this is daily fare and that’s why I say the first challenge we need to face is countering non-state violent actors, for a host of reasons,” he said.
Officials have now confirmed that three men stormed the airport late Tuesday, opening fire on the international terminal before blowing themselves up following police response. 41 people died in the attack and over 230 were injured. No terrorist group has taken responsibility for the attack, but Turkish officials have signaled that the Islamic State is responsible. The Islamic State has conducted terrorist attacks in Turkey in the past, though fewer than the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist terrorist group whose members have gone into Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State.
Kerry’s opinion of the Islamic State has fluctuated dramatically over the years. In 2014, Kerry described ISIS as “one of the most dangerous groups that I have seen in my time in public life” and warned that the threat was international. Kerry described government officials as unsurprised following the November 2015 attack on multiple targets in Paris, France.
“They have gained great expertise, over a period of time, and they have some people in ISIS who have been fighting in the terror network for a period of time,” he said. “So, they have access to c-4. They have access to explosives. Everybody knows that. They’re making IEDs every single day.”
“Any individual who wants to strap a suicide vest around them, can walk into any public event, in most places in the world, and blow him or herself up, and destroy people with them,” he added at the time.
Kerry has also declared ISIS to be, “in my judgment,” capable of committing and guilty of genocide.
These statement stand in stark contrast to both Kerry’s remarks Tuesday and the White House’s stance that the Islamic State is a diminished threat. In May, President Obama asserted he did not “think we’re losing” to ISIS. Shortly after the Paris attacks, President Obama asserted of ISIS, “we have contained them.”
This week, Brett McGurk, President Obama’s special envoy to the coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, asserted that the Islamic State was the smallest it had been since the government had begun conducting studies regarding its size in the region. “We currently estimate that ISIL fields 18-22,000 overall fighters in Iraq and Syria, the lowest assessed range since we began conducting rigorous reviews of its manpower… We are also seeing significant reduction in the flow of foreign fighters entering Syria and Iraq each month,” he said Tuesday.