ISTANBUL: Turkish security forces have detained over 750 people suspected of links to the Islamic State extremist group in Turkey’s biggest ever crackdown against the organization, state media said Monday.
Some 450 suspects were picked up in the initial phase of the nationwide operation on Sunday but the number held has now risen to 763, the Anadolu News Agency said.
It said raids took place in 29 of Turkey’s 81 provinces and documents, weapons and ammunition were also seized.
The operation came just over a month after 39 people, mainly foreigners, were killed on New Year’s night when a gunman went on the rampage inside a plush Istanbul nightclub.
The IS jihadist group claimed the massacre, its first clear claim for a major attack in Turkey although it had been blamed for several bombings in 2016.
Turkish police have over the last few years launched numerous raids against IS suspects but a nationwide operation on this scale against the group is unprecedented.
Anadolu quoted Turkey’s police directorate as saying that IS was looking to stage a “sensational action” inside the country for propaganda purposes, with media organizations seen as a possible target.
No further details were given.
Turkey was long accused by its Western allies of not doing enough to stop the flow of jihadists across its borders and emergence of IS cells in its own cities.
Ankara denies the charges, saying it listed IS as a terror group since 2013. However, observers say Turkey has markedly stepped up its actions against the group in the last few months.
Police captured alive the suspected Reina nightclub attacker, Abdulgadir Masharipov, an Uzbek national, on January 16 after more than two weeks on the run and observers believe he may provide crucial intelligence.
According to media reports, Masharipov had also considered attacking Istanbul’s main Taksim Square as well as the offices of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper.