Turkish public is no stranger to the news of anti-ISIS operations, but Sunday’s operations were unprecedented in Turkey’s fight against the militant group. The raids came more than a month after an ISIS gunman shot down at least 39 New Year’s Eve revelers in Istanbul’s iconic Reina nightclub.
Turkish authorities have detained hundreds of suspected members of the Islamic State in one of the most sweeping raids across Turkey, revealing the depth of infiltration of the ISIS network into Turkish society and the staggering number of its sympathizers.
The state-run news agency Anadolu put the number of detained suspects, less than half of them foreign nationals, at 460. Some Turkish media put the number as high as 700.
Anti-terrorism police units stormed house after house in 18 provinces in pre-dawn raids, detaining suspects without any gunfight.
Ahmet Yayla, former Turkish counter-terror chief, told The Globe Post that the lack of gunbattle during the raids shows it was not a crackdown on ISIS cells. He noted that it is imperative for ISIS to fight back in cases of a police operation and framed the Sunday arrests as an operation against ISIS supporters.
The largest number of arrests was in Sanliurfa, a province bordering Syria, and at least 100 suspects were taken into custody as a result of raids on 40 houses.
In Istanbul, 14 out of 18 detained suspects were foreigners and they were sent for a deportation. In Ankara, at least 60 suspects were detained, most of them foreigners. In Adana, as many as 500 police officers raided 53 houses and detained 25 suspects.
Before Turkey rolled out its crackdown on suspected ISIS members, Ankara was accused of turning a blind eye as foreign fighters used Turkish territory to join radical groups. Turkey calculated that the rebel groups in Syria, some of whom later joined ISIS, would fight against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Turkey’s late participation in the fight against ISIS also suck the country into the Syrian quagmire, where at least 50 Turkish troops were killed.
It is not clear what kind of impact Sunday’s raids will have to deal a blow on ISIS cells in Turkey. In the past, ISIS used suicide bombers to kill hundreds of demonstrators, most of them Kurds, during electoral campaigns. The raids against the suspects took place just a day before Turkish politicians were to kick off a campaign for a referendum in April.
During the raids, Turkish authorities said they seized dozens of books, some of which were authored by one of the most influential Turkish recruiters who was known by nom de guerre Abu Hanzala.