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Turkey Says It Is Dealing Blows to IS Cells

FILE - Backdropped by the Martyrs bridge over the Bosporus Strait, a man sits amongst the debris of the Reina nightclub that was attacked on New Year's Day, in Istanbul, May 22, 2017. Turkey's state-run news agency says authorities have partially destroyed the upscale Istanbul nightclub where an Islamic State group attacker killed 39 people.

Turkish security and intelligence organizations are dealing blows to Islamic State cells and networks in the country, a high-level Turkish official told VOA, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Since the New Year's attack by IS in Istanbul which took 39 lives, Turkey has been dealing heavy blows to this extremist organization," the official said. "Turkey is part of the international anti-IS coalition. We are very determined as always and continue to fight against IS and all other terrorist organizations."

Last week, Turkish security forces stormed a suspected IS cell in the Anatolian province of Konya, killing at least five IS fighters.

In recent weeks,Turkish special police forces have detained a total of 233 IS suspects in 29 provinces, according to Turkish media reports.

Separately, in early July, Turkish security forces also detained 29 suspected IS members in Istanbul.

The majority of the suspects, who were detained in raids carried out across the country, were foreign nationals and were allegedly preparing to stage attacks in Turkey, according to Turkish media reports.

Turkey's interior ministry recently published a report listing the number of foreign nationals in IS ranks in the country. Tunisians top the list followed by citizens of Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, France, Russia and Belgium.

The same report said foreign fighters who arrive in Turkey to join IS try to cross into the war zones of Syria and Iraq.

Turkish police officers escort a man arrested in a raid in Konya, Turkey, July 12, 2017. Police killed five Islamic State militants in a firefight that erupted during a raid on a house in the central city of Konya, officials said.
Turkish police officers escort a man arrested in a raid in Konya, Turkey, July 12, 2017. Police killed five Islamic State militants in a firefight that erupted during a raid on a house in the central city of Konya, officials said.

An all-out crackdown

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently claimed that Turkey has deported 5,000 people suspected of having links to terrorist organizations, banned more than 50,000 people from entering the country, and cleared the border region of IS fighters.

Yesugay Aksakal, a former law enforcement official and counterterrorism expert, told VOA that following a series of security operations across Turkey, IS cells have been dismantled and that the terror group's ability to wage attacks has been considerably diminished.

"Turkey also shares intelligence with Western countries. This relationship is independent of political relations. Intelligence cooperation helps prevent violent terror acts in different countries," Aksakal said.

Metehan Demir, a Turkish security expert who follows IS activities in Turkey and elsewhere, told VOA that 2017 has been a year full of consequences for IS in Turkey.

"In the last six months alone, 100 important figures within the IS have been caught by Turkish security forces," Demir said.

Turkey's Euphrates Shield operation inside northern Syria, which started in August of 2016 and ended almost 10 months later, also caused heavy losses to IS.

Turkish military officials claim responsibility for killing more than 2,600 IS fighters and "neutralizing" 3,060 others, according to Turkish media. It has been reported that 72 Turkish soldiers died during the same operation.

Since its emergence, IS has been able to carry out deadly attacks in Turkey, killing and injuring hundreds of people across the country.

IS had a total of 14 attacks in Turkey since May 2013. Turkish authorities say the attacks killed more than 300 people and injured 1,300 others.

Intelligence-sharing crucial

Analysts believe intelligence-sharing has been crucial in the recent crackdown against IS in Turkey.

"I believe that Turkish intelligence is doing a good job against IS, and they are also in close cooperation with European intelligence agencies," Demir said.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany's domestic intelligence service (BfV) said last week that Ankara and Berlin continue to cooperate on security issues despite their political disagreements.

"The geostrategic situation of Turkey shows that we have an interest in working with Turkey in the fight against terrorism," Maassen said.

'Front-line state combating IS'

The U.S State Department has commended Turkey for its efforts against IS.

"The United States cooperates closely with Turkey, our longstanding NATO ally and a critical partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS," a U.S. State Department official told VOA in an emailed statement, using an acronym for Islamic State. "Turkey is a front-line state in combating ISIS's external operations networks and we have, and will continue to work with Turkey to meet significant law enforcement and counterterrorism challenges."

The official added that the U.S. has supported Turkey's operations to clear its border area of IS and that it regularly coordinates with Turkey to degrade IS's ability to cross borders and plan external operations.

Despite the ongoing cooperation, Turkey and the U.S. have some differences in how to approach the ongoing campaign.

Turkey is especially unhappy with a recent U.S. decision to arm Syrian Kurdish forces, known as the People's Protection Units, who are playing a major role in the battle on the IS de facto "capital" Raqqa in Syria.

Ankara charges that U.S.-backed Kurdish forces have ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a terrorist organization.

But analysts downplay the ongoing tensions when it comes to sharing intelligence on IS hideouts and operatives.

"Turkey is an important part of the international coalition against [IS]. Although some differences regarding tactics to combat ISIS do exist, cooperation continues," Yonah Alexander, Director of the Potomac Institute of Terrorism Studies, told VOA.

"Turkey has proven from the Korean War to the current situation in the Middle East that it is a trusted ally willing and able to contribute to the interests of the U.S. and the West," he added.