Turkey shelling 'kills 200 IS fighters' in Syria

Turkey shelling 'kills 200 IS fighters' in Syria
Turkish tanks and artillery have attacked Islamic State group positions in Iraq and in Syria in retaliation for the suicide bombing in Istanbul which killed ten tourists earlier this week.
3 min read
14 January, 2016
Turkey has stepped up the fight against IS in recent months after several attacks [Anadolu]

Turkish ground forces pounded Islamic State group positions in Iraq and Syria with artillery after a suicide attack claimed by the extremist organisation in Istanbul killed ten tourists.

Around 200 IS fighters were killed in the assault, Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, although it was not possible to independently verify the toll.

"After the heinous attack in Istanbul, our armed forces hit in the last 48 hours some 500 positions of Daesh in Syria and Iraq with artillery and tank fire," Davutoglu told Turkish ambassadors in Ankara, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

"Every attack that targets Turkey's guests will be punished," he added.

Turkey has often been criticised by its Western allies for not doing enough to combat IS extremists who have seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

But Ankara last year stepped up its involvement in the US-led coalition against IS, hosting US war planes at its Incirlik air base for deadly raids against the militants and conducting airstrikes of its own.

There was no suggestion from Davutoglu that Turkey had carried out air raids against IS in the past 48 hours and it appeared that all the fire had been from the ground.

The prime minister said Turkey was determined to dislodge IS fully from the Syrian border, which analysts says they have controlled for much of last year.

"We will continue to fight the Daesh terror organisation in a determined way until it leaves the Turkish border area completely and as long as it behaves in a way that tarnishes the name of our holy religion Islam," he said.

Seven suspects arrested

Turkish authorities have identified the Istanbul suicide bomber as a 28-year-old Syrian who entered Turkey on 5 January along with a group of people fleeing the country's civil war.

At the border, he was fingerprinted by migration authorities but never placed on any wanted list.

Turkey is currently hosting around 2.2 million refugees who have fled the fighting in Syria, and Davutoglu was quick to warn against seeing all migrants as potential extremists, which he said would be playing into the hands of the "terrorists".

So far, a total of seven suspects have been arrested in connection with the bombing, interior minister Efkan Ala said on Thursday.

In addition, Turkish security forces rounded up over 70 suspected IS members across the country over the last few days, but it was not clear if any of them were directly connected to the Istanbul attack.

According to the Anatolia news agency, there are at least six Russian citizens among them.

Turkey was hit by three attacks blamed on IS in 2015, including a including a double suicide bombing in October in Ankara that killed 103 people, the country's worst-ever attack.

All those attacks targeted pro-Kurdish groups, who are vehemently opposed to IS.

The attack on the German tourists, however, was the first time that foreign visitors have been targeted in the historic heart of Istanbul.