Turkey plays security card in run-up to pivotal election

Friday 23/10/2015
Critical juncture

ANKARA - Turkey pressed on with its "war on terror" on Tuesday, just five days before a pivotal election, detaining dozens of Islamic State (ISIS) suspects in massive police raids and hitting Kurdish rebels across the border in Syria.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been playing the security card in the run-up to Sunday's vote with tensions running high over the renewed Kurdish conflict and a massive bomb attack blamed on ISIS jihadists.
Around 200 Turkish police swooped at dawn on suspected ISIS hideouts in the conservative central Anatolian city of Konya, detaining 30 people including one woman, the Dogan news agency said.
Backed up by helicopters, counter-terrorism police also raided addresses in three districts of Istanbul, detaining 21 suspects, including seven children, Dogan added.
Another 20 were arrested in a similar operation in the town of Kocaeli, east of Istanbul, it said.
Rebels from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) were also targeted in raids in the eastern town of Elazig, with 13 arrests, Dogan said.
The cross-country raids followed a similar operation Monday in the main Kurdish majority city of Diyarbakir which left two policemen and seven ISIS suspects dead during a fierce gun battle.
It was the first such shootout on Turkish soil since Ankara joined the US-led coalition against the extremist group earlier this year.
The two slain policemen were victims of a suicide bomber, Diyarbakir police said in a statement, after officials earlier blamed a booby trap bomb.
Several of the seven dead ISIS suspects had blown themselves up, a security source said.
The Turkish army also said security forces had detained 17 foreign jihadists as they attempted to cross into Syria from the border region of Kilis on Monday.
Turkey has been on the hunt for ISIS extremists since the twin bombings on a peace rally in Ankara on October 10 that killed 102 people and wounded 500 more, the worst such attack in the country's history.
Erdogan, an increasingly polarising figure in Turkey, on Monday vowed to press ahead with operations against all "terrorists" including Islamic State and the outlawed PKK.
Media reports at the weekend said security forces feared an ISIS cell was plotting large-scale attacks to disrupt the election.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also confirmed Monday that the military had struck Kurdish fighters across the border in northern Syria.
In an interview with pro-government A Haber television, Davutoglu said Turkey had warned members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) not to cross to the west of the Euphrates river and if they did, Turkey would attack.
"We struck twice," he said, without giving any further details.
Ankara regards the PYD as the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which resumed deadly attacks against Turkish forces in July after a bomb attack in a Kurdish majority town near the Syrian border that killed 34 activists.
Turkey responded by launching an air war against PKK bases in northern Iraq, shattering a delicate 2013 ceasefire and hopes of an end to a conflict that has raged for three decades.
Davutoglu's comments came after Syrian Kurdish fighters accused the Turkish military of attacking their positions near Tal Abyad, where the Kurds expelled the Islamic State group after fierce clashes in June.
Kurdish fighters known as the YPG control large parts of northern Syria on the Turkish border, where they have for months engaged in bitter fighting with ISIS.
The Kurds in Syria last week said they had incorporated Tal Abyad into their "autonomous administration" in the north of the country.
Alarmed by the growing strength of Syrian Kurds, Turkey fears they could eventually create an independent state to threaten Ankara.
With Kurds making up 20 percent of Turkey's population, its ultimate nightmare would be Turkish Kurds cooperating with their Syrian brethren in search of autonomy on both sides.
Ankara has warned Syrian Kurds to stay away from any attempts to create a "de facto situation" in Syria.
Long criticised by its Western allies for not doing enough to stem the rise of the extremist jihadist group, Turkey launched air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria after a deadly bombing on a border town in July.
But most of the firepower was concentrated on PKK fighters based in northern Iraq, rupturing the truce between Ankara and the rebels.