BERLIN (Reuters) - Turkey’s foreign minister on Thursday called for a greater exchange of information with other states to prevent jihadists entering his country and traveling on to Iraq or Syria to join Islamic State militants.
Thousands of foreign fighters from countries including Turkey, Britain, parts of Europe and the United States are believed to have joined the Islamist militants, many of them traveling over the Turkish border.
“Turkey cannot fight this matter on its own. First and foremost, it needs information and intelligence sharing with our allies, like Germany, Europe and the United States,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a press conference with his German counterpart in Berlin.
“It is most ideal if these people are identified before leaving their countries in order to prevent their entry into Turkey or to deport them once they’ve entered,” he added.
German security authorities estimate about 3,000 western European citizens have joined Islamic State, 400 of them Germans - many simply by boarding cheap flights to Istanbul then arranging passage across Turkey’s long borders with Syria or Iraq.
Turkey, a NATO member, has made it clear it is reluctant to play any frontline role in U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans to bomb Islamic State (ISIL) fighters in Syria and Iraq, partly out of concern for the fate of Turkish hostages held by the group.
It is also worried at the prospect of action that could strengthen Kurdish militants. PKK rebels, who have spent three decades fighting for autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds, called on Thursday for the youth of the country’s mostly Kurdish southeast to join the fight against Islamic State in northern Syria.
Officials say Turkey’s contribution to the push against Islamic State is likely to be limited to stemming the flow of would-be jihadists, helping cut off the group’s finances and providing humanitarian and logistical support.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he and Cavusoglu had discussed the alarming numbers of young people involved. “We have an interest in preventing as many of them as possible from reaching the conflict,” he said.
German intelligence officials believe five Germans citizens carried out suicide attacks for the insurgents in recent months.
Western security officials have in the past said Turkey could have done more to halt the passage of foreign fighters, particularly in the early days of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We are sad to hear the unfair (allegations) against us... we are very determined,” said Cavusoglu. “We know that every terrorist that comes to this region, whether they are foreign fighters or fighters from this region, are threats to Turkey.”
“We have caught thousands of suspects whom we have deported ... We have placed 6,000 people, 3,000 people just in the last seven months, on a no-entry list. Hopefully we will continue to cooperate like this,” he added.
Turkey had increased security measures at bus and train stations, he said, and had intensified border controls at crossings with Syria and Iraq, whilst maintaining its open door policy for refugees from those countries.
Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Andrew Heavens