Turkey claimed Thursday that it has killed 200 Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for the suicide bomb attack that killed 10 German tourists in Istanbul two days ago.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkish forces hit 500 Islamic State targets with artillery and tank fire along its border with Syria and near a Turkish camp in northern Iraq. He said the attacks had been carried out within the last 48 hours.
Davutoglu told a conference of Turkish ambassadors in Ankara that if necessary, Turkey would also launch air attacks against the insurgents and maintain a «determined stance» against IS fighters until they leave the border areas; but, Turkey’s war planes have not flown in Syrian air space since a Turkish pilot shot down a Russian fighter jet in late November.
Davutoglu vowed that «every threat directed at Turkey will be punished in kind.»
Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, accompanied by his wife Sare, visit the site of Tuesday’s explosion, in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016.
Meanwhile, Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala said authorities have now arrested seven suspects, three of them Russian nationals, in connection with the suicide bombing. The attack occurred in Sultanahmet Square, home to Turkey’s most visited historic sites, such as the Ottoman-era Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, once a Byzantine church, then a mosque and now a museum.
In addition to the 10 killed in the attack, another 15 people were wounded, most of them Germans.
Turkish authorities say the attack was carried out by a 28-year-old Syrian member of Islamic State, Nabil Fadli, who had recently entered Turkey from Syria as a refugee, but was not on Ankara’s watch list of suspected terrorists.
Few details of the Russian arrests have been given, but observers suggest there could be a Chechen connection, since many jihadists fighting in Syria are linked to the conflict in the Russian state of Chechnya.
Turkey remains one of the main transit countries for jihadists going to Syria.
The Turkish interior minister says everything is being done to stop the jihadists, announcing that 36,000 people from 124 countries are now on Turkey’s no entry list.
In addition, over the last few days, Turkey has detained more than 70 suspected Islamic State members, although it is not clear if they have any connection to the suicide bombing in Istanbul.