Turkey arrests 94 Islamic State suspects ahead of New Year

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) welcomes Moldovan President Igor Dodon at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey yesterday.-AFP

ISTANBUL: Turkish police detained 94 people suspected of ties to Islamic State in nationwide raids yesterday ahead of New Year celebrations, police and state media said, two months after the group’s leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi was killed.

Police have rounded up jihadist militants in late December in the last two years, since New Year’s Day in 2017 when a gunman killed 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub in an attack claimed by the militant group. Counter-terror police carried out the operations in the central provinces of Ankara, Kayseri and Adana, and Batman in the southeast, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported. Istanbul police said it also made arrests.

At 5 am (0200 GMT) in Batman, some 400 police officers detained 22 people in simultaneous raids on various addresses, seizing weapons, ammunition and documents, Anadolu said. It said 30 Iraqis, two Syrians and one Moroccan were detained in Ankara. Nine Iraqi citizens who had operated in Syria and Iraq were detained in Kayseri, while four Syrian and two Iraqi citizens were detained in Adana, it added.

Istanbul police said 20 Turks and four foreign nationals were captured in separate raids aimed to prevent potential attacks by the group ahead of New Year’s. US President Donald Trump announced on Oct. 27 that Islamic State leader Baghdadi had been killed in a raid by US special forces in northwest Syria, near the Turkish border. Two days later, Turkish police detained dozens of Islamic State suspects believed to have been plotting attacks targeting celebrations of Turkey’s Republic Day celebrations.

The government has said it will have repatriated most of its Islamic State detainees to their home countries by the end of the year. Ankara had accused its European allies of being too slow to take back their citizens who travelled to the Middle East to join Islamic State. Turkey’s NATO allies have been worried that its October offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia could lead to Islamic State suspects and their families escaping from the prisons and camps run by the YPG.

Turkey’s main opposition party said yesterday it opposes a bill to allow a troop deployment to Libya, arguing such a move would exacerbate the country’s conflict and cause it to spread across the region. Last week, President Tayyip Erdogan said his government would seek parliamentary consent to deploy troops to Libya after Fayez Al-Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) requested support. The GNA is fending off an offensive by Khalifa Haftar’s forces in the east of the North African country.

Speaking after talks with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on the bill, Unal Cevikoz, deputy chairman for the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said his party opposed such a move. “We believe diplomacy should be prioritized, rather than being a party to a proxy war. What is being done is making preparations to worsen the current situation, and we conveyed to the minister that this is not right,” Cevikoz said. “Sending troops there in this case will expand the effects of the conflicts in the region and cause them to spread… We view the bill negatively,” he added.

The CHP has previously supported parliamentary bills to send troops into northern Syria, where Turkey has carried out three cross-border operations in three years. However, it has said it did not approve of Turkish military actions beyond its frontier. Cavusoglu subsequently met the opposition Iyi Party leader to discuss the troop deployment bill. Erdogan has said the bill will be presented to parliament in early January.

Last month, Turkey signed two separate accords with the GNA, one on security and military cooperation and another on maritime boundaries in the eastern Mediterranean. Ankara has also sent military supplies to the GNA despite a United Nations embargo, according to a UN report seen by Reuters last month. Haftar’s forces have received support from Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Erdogan has called Haftar illegitimate and said Ankara would continue to support the GNA in any way it can. – Reuters