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Turkey on Edge as Officials Warn of Islamic State Threats


FILE - Soldiers march in front of the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, in Ankara, Nov. 27, 2014. Recent reports say Islamic State is targeting the site for a terror attack.

FILE - Soldiers march in front of the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, in Ankara, Nov. 27, 2014. Recent reports say Islamic State is targeting the site for a terror attack.

Turkey went on high alert Monday after intelligence officials warned of possible imminent Islamic State bombing attacks as Turks prepare to celebrate a national holiday.

According to a report in the Habertürk newspaper, Turkish intelligence sent a confidential warning to police departments asking them to take additional security and safety measures.

IS is planning to attack the mausoleum of the founder of secular Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, on Thursday when youth sports activities are held marking Ataturk's campaign against occupiers in 1919, the newspaper said.

Turkish media reported that at least 10 IS fighters have crossed into Turkey from Syria and are in the Gaziantep area — a hotbed of IS activity.

IS has claimed responsibility in recent months for several attacks in Turkey's big cities that have killed dozens and injured hundreds.

The extremist group is again planning several bombings in crowded metropolitan areas, media reports say. The U.S. Embassy and a military facility in Ankara's Cebeci district are also reported to be intended IS targets.

Radical Islamists like IS followers consider Turkey's founding father, Ataturk, to be a secularist.

"Ataturk is a symbol of secularism," said Yonah Alexander, a terrorism analyst at the Potomac Institute in Washington. "That is very much against their radical ideology."

Ali Akel, a Turkish journalist-commentator and an expert on radical Islamist movements, told VOA that IS may be targeting national celebrations to send a message to radical Islamist segments of Turkish society.

"Remember, IS hit Turkey many times before and killed many people," Akel said. "So I think this new intelligence warning should be taken very, very seriously."

Turkey has been battling IS on several fronts along the Syrian border. Turkish shelling in recent weeks killed more than 55 IS fighters in northern Syria in retaliation for weeks of rocket attacks that have killed more than 20 people in and near the border town of Kilis.

"Turkey is a natural target for IS, because it is cooperating with the West against extremism and terrorism," Alexander said. "Turkey is playing a key role in stopping jihadist fighters to get across the border."

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