University at Albany
Brian Nussbaum

Dr. Brian Nussbaum recently spoke with a reporter from Metro about the June 28, 2016 attack in Istanbul's Ataturk Airport.

Nussbaum is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy. His focus is on cybersecurity and cyber threats, terrorism and terrorism analysis, homeland security, risk and intelligence analysis, and critical infrastructure protection.

Below is an English translation of his interview.  Read the article as it appeared in Metro in Spanish.

Q: Who could be behind this attack?

It is almost certainly ISIS behind this attack. The approach, tactics, targeting of civilians, and high-profile nature all fit with the recent international attacks related to the group. It is not impossible that another organization could be responsible; at least three others have employed suicide bombing in Turkey in the past, including Al Qaeda, the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) and the DHKP-C (a Marxist Leninist group). However the strongest likelihood is that it is ISIS. The organization is widely believed to have operational and logistical capabilities in Turkey, has conducted attacks there before, and this fits well with their modus operandi.

Q: It’s the fifth terror attack this year. Is there a way to stop them — by involving the international community, for example?

Terrorism can be mitigated, though it is hard to imagine eliminating it altogether. The use of high profile political violence against the state and society has ancient roots, and no society has been immune to it. Professionals in the field tend to think in terms of prevention — reducing the space in which terrorists can operate, minimizing risks, protecting the most critical infrastructure — and also in terms of improving response and resilience. Limiting terrorism and mitigating its effect on society is a good goal; eliminating terrorism entirely would be a colossal challenge.

Q: The airport was targeted just like in Belgium. Why is that? 

Why are such targets attractive? I would guess for symbolic reasons, as aviation is inherently international and cooperative, and perhaps also for practical ones. The economic and practical impacts may be higher than comparably crowded areas just because aviation is part of the global mobility system. Related to this, and going beyond it, is the extent to which airports — and aviation more generally — have been key targets for terrorists historically.

Q: Are airports an iconic location for a terrorist attack? If so, why?

Yes! Terrorists have historically had an unusual predilection for targeting aviation. This has been true recently of jihadist terrorists, but in fact predated the growth of that particular strain of ideology. Much of early modern terrorism involved airplane hijacking. Since the rise of modern terrorism in the 1960s, the targeting of airports has been common. From the Japanese Red Army attack on Lod Airport in Israel in 1972, to the 1983 attack on Orly Airport in Paris by the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), to the failed 2007 car bombing attempt on the Glasgow Airport, there is sadly nothing new about this target set. 

Q: Should security be elevated at airports around the world in the aftermath of these attacks?

Security can, and should, be raised at some airports. Those that are large, international, or in high risk geographical areas should have top-of-the-line security. This kind of hardening of the target is feasible because there are a smaller number of these. However the important thing to remember is that while such efforts can bear fruit, they can also result in a "substitution effect" in which adversaries move from hard targets, those that are strongly protected, to soft targets. The problem is that the universe of soft targets is much larger, and thus it is often not feasible to institute security in those.

Article originally published on June 30, 2016
Contact: Mary Hunt at (518) 442-5264