A suicide bomber with ties to ISIS blew himself up Tuesday in the middle of Istanbul’s bustling tourist mecca, killing ten German citizens and hurting about a dozen more people. Turkish officials now say the attacker was a Syrian national and one of the millions of refugees who have flooded into Turkey to escape fighting in Syria.
Nabil Fadli, who was born in Saudi Arabia in 1998 but relocated to Syria with his family as a kid, registered as a refugee with Turkish immigration officials about a week before the deadly blast, on January 5. Authorities matched the fingerprints from the explosion site to those in its immigration database. Fadli reportedly told Istanbul police he was smuggled illegally into Turkey around New Year’s. He raised zero security alerts when he met with authorities, and his name did not pop up on any terror watch lists, say Turkish officials.
According to The Wall Street Journal, one source said Fadli had previously been a member of the Syrian opposition fighters — one of the many rebel factions challenging Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. However, he allegedly flipped loyalties to ISIS after his town, near Aleppo, was overtaken by the extremist group sometime in 2014.
In the wake of the attacks, Turkey vowed to ramp up security and its anti-terrorism efforts, but said it would not alter its policies toward Syrian refugees. “Despite all kinds of dangers and risks, we have not changed our open-door policy for the past five years. And we will not do that now, either,” one Turkish official said. “Only security precautions will continue to be tightened.” Turkey, which shares a border with war-torn Syria, hosts more than 2 million refugees.
Turkish officials did say they arrested one other person in connection with Tuesday’s suicide attack, reports the Times, and also detained three Russians who are suspected ISIS sympathizers in a resort town, though it’s unclear if the men had anything to do with the bloody blast.
Still, this latest revelation is likely to add to the debate sweeping across Europe and even the United States over the security risks of taking in Syrian refugees, especially since at least two of the Paris attackers reportedly posed as migrants to sneak into Europe along with the masses of refugees. The European Union is trying to pour aid into Turkey — to the tune of more than $3 billion dollars — to stem the flow of migrants to European shores and to crack down on smugglers, but so far the exodus continues. Add to this a Germany that’s still reeling from the mass sexual assaults in Cologne, which were allegedly perpetrated by at least some recent refugee arrivals. Germany has responded by trying to make it easier to deport foreigners, including asylum-seekers, who are guilty of major crimes, but the public backlash over what many see as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s lax “open-door” policy toward refugees hasn’t abated.
And though most of the victims of Tuesday’s attack were German nationals, officials there say they don’t believe it was a targeted assault — just a tour group in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, Germany issued a travel warning to its citizens to avoid large gatherings near landmarks in Istanbul and across Turkey, according to The Guardian, since the explosion erupted near a popular tourist attraction. The names of those killed haven’t been released, but all of those murdered were over 50, including at least two married couples. Seven other German group members were badly injured, along with people from Norway, Peru, and South Korea.