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Turkey Escalates Crackdown on Islamic State


FILE - An image made from militant video posted online by the Aamaq News Agency, a media arm of the Islamic State group, Jan. 9, 2017, purports to show the moment of a Turkish missile strike, in the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, in Aleppo province, Syria.

Turkey has intensified its crackdown on Islamic State-associated militants since the deadly New Year's Eve attack on Istanbul's Reina nightclub that was claimed by IS, according to officials and analysts.

Data gathered by the private Turkish firm S Bilisim Danismanlik said eight IS militants were killed in Turkey this year, with nearly 500 others arrested and 525 convicted.

In addition, Turkey said its recently completed military operation in northern Syria, known as Euphrates Shield, killed 2,288 IS members since it began last August, including 750 this year.

In past years, Turkey came under blistering criticism for allowing IS militants from other countries to gain passage into neighboring Syria and Iraq and letting IS sympathizers gain havens in the country's southeast region.

Turkey has been targeted by IS militants several times including the Reina attack by an Uzbek gunman that took 39 lives and wounded many others.

As the threat from IS became clear, Turkey took on a larger role in the coalition campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq in mid-2015 and began a systematic crackdown internally.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak, 74,000 foreigners who came to Turkey to enter Syria and join IS were caught and expelled in the last two years.

FILE - A man with a Turkish flag walks past a Turkish police officer guarding the scene, during a memorial outside the Reina club following the New Year's day attack, in Istanbul, Turkey, Jan. 3, 2017.
FILE - A man with a Turkish flag walks past a Turkish police officer guarding the scene, during a memorial outside the Reina club following the New Year's day attack, in Istanbul, Turkey, Jan. 3, 2017.

Two IS militants were killed in a police operation May 21 in Ankara. Ankara Governor Ercan Topaca said a raid on the place they had been staying found sketches of the Ankara Sports Center, where thousands had gathered for the ruling AK Party's congress and elected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as chairman.

Metehan Demir, an expert in defense and security affairs, told VOA that IS possibly targeting the event where Erdogan was going to speak was a very ambitious attempt and carried a lot of symbolism.

"IS is directly sending a message to the Turkish state authority," Demir said.

Demir said that since the Reina attack, Turkish security forces have caught "more than a hundred key people" within IS.

"IS wants to target and hit Turkey. Turkish intelligence, and security agencies are prepared, too," Demir said.

The push against IS has come during the tightening security net from the state of emergency that Erdogan imposed after a coup attempt nearly a year ago. Thousands of people have been fired from their jobs, while the pro-Kurdish party HDP's leadership and many journalists have been jailed on terrorism allegations.

Bulent Aliriza, Turkey program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA that Turkish authorities now see IS as equally dangerous as the FETO organization the group led by U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen whom Ankara claims was behind the coup attemptand the Kurdish insurgent PKK that the government calls a terrorist group.

"In the short term these networks are threatening Turkey," said Gonul Tol, Turkish studies director at the Middle East Institute.

A high-level Turkish official told VOA that the country's determination to fight IS and all forms of terrorism will continue.

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