Turkey Claims Russian Among Dozens Arrested in Islamic State Raid

Reuters: Osman Orsai
Reuters: Osman Orsai

Turkish officials have arrested 33 alleged members of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Istanbul and southern Adana province, including a Russian national. Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Russia have reached a historic low in the past six months.

Police in Istanbul arrested ten people in the Pendik, Tuzla, Sultanbeyli, Kağıthane, and Beylikdüzü districts.

In the south, the anti-terror officials captured 23 people, “including 16 foreign nationals” and “seven Turkish citizens.” The suspects included 15 Egyptians and one Russian national. The government wanted one Turkish citizen on charges for attempting to join a terrorist organization and destroying the Turkish Republic.

Reports stated the suspects were in touch with members of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. A few even traveled to those areas.

The arrest of the Russian could further deteriorate the relationship between Turkey and Russia. Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border, which has led to a war of words between the nations. Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted Turkey shot the plane down to protect its shares of Islamic State oil. Turkish officials then fired back with claims that Russia purchased Islamic State oil. When Turkish websites came under fire, some in the country blamed Russian hackers. The Russian government also passed numerous sanctions against Turkey due to “national security” concerns and to protect “the national interests of the Russian Federation.”

The West criticized Turkey for not doing enough to fight against the Islamic State, but that changed in the summer of 2015 after a suicide bomber killed 32 people in Suruç and a militant murdered a Turkish soldier.

A few days before the arrests, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed the military killed 18 members of the Islamic State.

“I have been told that some 18 Daesh terrorists who tried to sneak into the Bashiqa camp were neutralized,” he declared. “There are no wounded friends; we have no such knowledge at the moment. Of course this [attack] only proves just how appropriate was the step taken regarding the camp.”

The Turkish military attacked the Islamic State near Azaz, which is on the border with Syria, over the weekend. Azaz has been an important border town since the Syrian civil war began almost five years ago. Rebels against President Bashar al-Assad seized the town in September 2013, which allowed easier access for jihadists.

However, Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State, revealed it is “much harder” for wannabe jihadists to join radical Islamic groups through Turkey.

“It’s much harder to get from the Turkish side of the border into Syria from that strip than it was some months ago,” he claimed. “[I]t’s not only what we’re doing across the border in Syria, but most significantly and most significantly in this building, the diplomacy with Turkey and focused on the Turks and really closing up that 98-kilometer border.”

Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala also announced the government banned more than 35,000 people from over 120 countries from entering Turkey.

“We placed a ban on the entry of 35,690 people from 124 countries,” he stated, adding:

We captured and deported 2,896 people from 92 countries. This is [the result of] intelligence exchange. But when we meet the interior ministers and foreign ministers of those countries, we are telling them we have almost three million guests, we are on a migration path and we are warning them to do their part.