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Turkey Arrests Hundreds in Sweeping Raids Against ISIS

Several hundred people suspected of being Islamic State operatives were arrested in a series of coordinated raids by the Turkish police on Sunday, in what constitutes one of Turkey's largest operations against the jihadist group on the country's soil.

Nearly 450 suspects were rounded up in the early hours of Sunday, according to the Anadolu Agency, a state-run news wire. Independent television reports later said 690 suspects had been held by the end of the day. At least one attack was said to have been thwarted in the process, according to Anadolu.

The operation was distinct from crackdowns on those accused of being supporters of last summer's failed coup, and on members of the country's political opposition. More than 130,000 Turks have been arrested or fired from government posts in the past seven months as part of those efforts, according to government data.

Sunday's raids were the latest salvo in a long-running conflict between Turkey and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. In the early years of the Syrian revolution, Turkey was accused of turning a blind eye to the movement of thousands of Islamic State fighters over its southern border with Syria, where they joined the war against the forces of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. But the Turkish Army is now in direct conflict with the group in northern Syria, where Turkey is leading attempts to expel the Islamic State from the strategically important city of Al Bab.

Turkey has suffered numerous attacks linked to the Islamic State since 2014, most recently in the early hours of this year, when a fighter killed 39 people at a nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city. The group is also believed to be behind an October 2015 bombing in Ankara, Turkey's capital, that killed more than 100 people, and was accused of organizing the killing of 45 people at Istanbul's main airport last summer.

This weekend's raids occurred across an unusually wide area, with suspects seized in 18 provinces. The move is a change in strategy by the Turkish police, who have usually detained only small numbers of jihadists at a time, said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat, and an analyst who focuses on Turkey for Carnegie Europe, a think tank.

But the detentions may not necessarily lead to court cases. "Over all, Turkey's efforts to combat the influence and network of the Islamic State at home is still handicapped by discrepancies between the different arms of the Turkish state," Mr. Ulgen said. "An effort led by law enforcement is sometimes handicapped by the decisions of the Turkish judiciary, which as we have seen in the recent past has let go people associated with the Islamic State."

Ahmet Yayla, a former counterterrorism chief in Turkey and a critic of the Turkish government, also questioned the effectiveness of such a large raid, which he argued could overwhelm the capacity of the counterterrorism police. Officers may not be able to properly handle the paperwork, interrogations and bureaucracy associated with processing more than 50 suspects, said Dr. Yayla, who headed counterterrorism operations in a southeast Turkish province from 2010 to 2012.

"It is impossible to process that many terrorists in one operation," said Dr. Yayla, who now lives in the United States, and who began to publicly criticize the Turkish government after his teenage son was jailed on suspicion of a connection to the coup attempt.

[Source: By Patrick Kingsley, The New York Times, Istanbul, 05Feb17]

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small logoThis document has been published on 07Feb17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.