If the recent tragic events in Istanbul are any indication, nightclubs could become a target for future terrorist attacks by ISIS.
A Turkish special security force member patrols near the scene of the Reina night club following the New Year's terrorist attack in Istanbul, Jan. 4. Photo: AP
On Jan. 4, the Turkish authorities finally identified the fugitive gunman who orchestrated a massacre in an Istanbul nightclub in the early hours of New Year’s Day, according to the state-run news agency Anadolu. The police had also detained about 20 people (including several citizens of Russia) who might be affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) and the nightclub attack.
Reportedly, the terrorist and his family came from Kyrgyzstan to Istanbul on Nov. 20, and afterwards, moved to Ankara, the Turkish capital, before eventually arriving in the city of Konya. According to the media, the terrorist brought his wife and children with him to Turkey to deflect attention while preparing his attack.
The fact that the bloodshed took place on the first day of 2017, at a time when the entire nation was celebrating the New Year’s holiday, is highly symbolic and also ill-omened, much like the Dec. 19 Berlin attack that shook Germany in the days leading up to Christmas, one of the most important holidays in the West.
Thus, the New Year’s “gift” from ISIS, which quickly took responsibility for the attack, means that Europe and all other countries fighting against this terrorist organization (including Russia) should be prepared for the worst in the year ahead. Most importantly, the Berlin terrorist attack and the Istanbul nightclub massacre could indicate that ISIS is changing its tactics.
In the wake of the New Year’s party in Istanbul’s Reina nightclub (which is very popular among celebrities and foreigners), a gunman, who was reportedly disguised as Santa Claus, opened fire in the crowd of 400 people. According to recent reports, the terrorist reached the club, took his machine gun out of the trunk of his vehicle, killed security officers in front of the entrance, entered the club, chose a convenient location and started shooting.
As a result, the assault killed 39, with dozens severely injured. Panic-stricken guests started jumping in the Bosporus and tried to swim away from the place of the massacre. Oddly enough, this incident took place in Turkey’s biggest city, where more than 17,000 police officers have been trying to maintain security.
Amidst the post-massacre chaos and disorder, the terrorist easily left the club and disappeared in the panic-stricken crowd. In the same way, the terrorist who was responsible for the Berlin attack disappeared, but eventually was shot dead several days later in Milan. It is not ruled out that another such person is hiding today in Europe or elsewhere, waiting to repeat the experience of the gunman who killed dozens in the Turkish nightclub.
Unfortunately, all recent terrorist attacks, be they in Turkey, Germany or elsewhere, show that ISIS is changing its tactics. The focus is on giving any perpetrator the chance to kill as many people as possible and survive without being punished.
In fact, such tactics echo the ones of the famous Chinese military leader, strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu, who lived in ancient China. His treatise “The Art of War” introduces two particularly relevant terms: “the living spy” and “the dead spy.” While the former should survive after his military task, the latter should die. The former requires many more resources to prepare, with his experience becoming richer with every attack. The latter is doomed to die and is seen by leaders as expendable. This “dead spy” is a suicide bomber who usually commits terrorist attacks under the influence of drugs and psychotropic substances.
In contrast, those who are supposed to survive (like the one who orchestrated the Istanbul attack) are able to withstand psychological pressure: They have a great deal of physical and mental stamina, they can kill dispassionately and, finally, they can pretend to be a victim in order to disappear. Such people can easily repeat their experience elsewhere. That’s why ISIS might be pinning their hopes on them for creating maximum chaos in the West. And this makes them even more dangerous.
Another risk is the way most nightclubs work today, which makes them a particularly attractive target for terrorists. Let’s begin with the assumption that a terrorist won’t necessarily attack a famous and popular nightclub in a city, guarded by many security and police officers during the most prominent holidays - as it was the case in Istanbul.
However, a terrorist will pay attention not to the image or reputation of a venue, but to the number of people attending that nightclub. The more people that will come to celebrate or party, the more likely a terrorist will come to kill them. Given the fact that even average clubs might bring together a lot of people during the holidays and some of them are very loosely guarded and vulnerable for attack, this create additional risks and a massive headache for security services everywhere, including in Russia.
After all, many clubs might not follow necessary security measures and, moreover, might hire doormen or bouncers with controversial life experiences, without checking their previous record and reliability. This, in turn, creates a loophole for terrorists who seek to get into the club and launch another attack.
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That’s why Europe, with its abundance of nightclubs, becomes a very vulnerable target for ISIS today. First of all, a nightclub is an ideal place for a terrorist attack, at least because zealous Muslims denounce such places as immoral and evil.
Second, nightclubs bring together many people in a relatively constrained space; this makes it relatively easy to turn a club into the scene of a panic-stricken crowd that is stampeding for the exits.
Third, even if police officers provide security in a nightclub, they are hardly likely to open fire in the crowd.
Fourth, masquerade theme parties, common for many nightclubs, make it easier for a perpetrator to disguise himself (or herself), hide a gun, merge into the crowd and leave shortly after shooting, right through the escape exit. This appears to be the case in Turkey, where a Santa Claus disguise may have provided cover for the perpetrator.
However, it remains unclear if Istanbul’s New Year party massacre was really a well-orchestrated attack that involved several culprits or just an attack conducted by a lone wolf who was lucky enough not to be detected by the Turkish police. Yet now it seems to be clear that ISIS might, unfortunately, take into account this example as a playbook for future attacks. And, again, this makes ISIS more dangerous: The more the West squeezes ISIS in places like Iraq or Syria, the more desperate ISIS may be to lash back in the capitals of Europe.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.