Al-Qaeda Strikes its First Blow on European Soil
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
Europe has been traumatized by the horrific Al-Qaeda sponsored carnage that destroyed so many innocent lives in Istanbul. Within less than a week, four absolutely devastating suicide bombings have shattered the normal everyday life of one of Europe's most historic and magnificent cities. The long feared, and widely predicted, Al-Qaeda attack on European soil has finally happened. The terror strikes have temporarily pushed the continent into a state of mourning, but soon the political repercussions will begin to emerge. These will probably further polarize opinion about the effectiveness of President George W. Bush's war on terror.
Although geographically Istanbul lies at the outer limits of Europe, its historic and cultural significance to the continent is immense. Istanbul is one of Europe's greatest cities, perhaps better known to history by its former name of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Many Europeans believe that by preserving the knowledge of the classical world, Constantinople was the genesis for the Renaissance.
The Istanbul atrocities bear all the deadly hallmarks of Al-Qaeda. As in previous Al-Qaeda sponsored outrages, innocent people of differing cultures and religions have been indiscriminately massacred. In the first pair of attacks two peaceful synagogues were violated and in the second double assault, British targets were bombed.
The second wave of strikes targeted the British consulate and a London-based global bank, HSBC. These bombings were timed to coincide with President Bush's controversial state visit to the United Kingdom and were presumably meant to demonstrate Al-Qaeda anger at British Prime Minister Tony Blair's unswerving support for the policies of the US president. Shortly after the second wave of attacks, both leaders stood shoulder to shoulder to make a defiant joint-statement condemning the outrages and promising not to flinch in the ongoing war on terror. Blair also emphasized that the attacks justified the war which toppled the murderous regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
However, a majority of European countries view the Istanbul attacks as confirmation that the war in Iraq has heightened the terrorist threat, not diminished it. In fact, the Istanbul bombings are likely to intensify opposition to the Bush-Blair approach for dealing with the Al-Qaeda threat.
European critics of Bush's policy argued that attacking Iraq was a dangerous divertion in the war against Al-Qaeda and its affiliates which has only encouraged more terrorism.
The Istanbul bombings will strengthen the conviction of those Europeans who opposed the Iraq war. Conversely, for Bush and Blair the attacks appear to have hardened their resolve. Thus, once the grieving is over, tensions between the Bush-Blair camp and their European opponents are likely to intensify.
However, since the lethal strikes, European criticisms of Bush policy have been restrained. It appears that the critics have chosen to continue their opposition to Bush's anti-terror policy in private. This is a hopeful sign as the divisions caused by the Iraq conflict must be eased so the two sides can effectively unite to fight the threat posed by Al-Qaeda.
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