ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s army said on Tuesday it had detained almost 800 people trying to cross illegally from Syria, including three suspected Islamic State militants, after bolstering security in border areas near where the radical Islamists hold ground.
The military said 768 people had been detained on Monday alone while trying to cross the border. The three suspected Islamic State members were sent to jail in the southern city of Sanliurfa after being detained separately on July 2, it said.
Wary of advances by both Syrian Kurdish forces and Islamic State in northern Syria, Turkey has sent extra troops and equipment to strengthen parts of its 900 km (560-mile) border as the risk of spillover rises.
Turkey has maintained an open border policy throughout Syria’s conflict, absorbing close to two million refugees, but requires legitimate refugees to pass through checkpoints and be documented. The military did not say why the 768 people had been detained.
Turkey has faced criticism from some Western nations for failing to do more to stop foreign fighters crossing and joining Islamic State. It argues that domestic intelligence agencies in the West need to stop their nationals being radicalized and traveling to Turkey in the first place.
Ankara has mooted the creation of a ‘secure zone’ on Syrian soil to prevent a new wave of refugees crossing the border, a strategy which would be likely to require a military incursion, but has made clear it will not act alone and has been lobbying for support from the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.
Retired General John Allen, appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama to build that coalition, held talks on Tuesday in Ankara with Turkish officials.
While concerned about the threat from Islamic State, Turkey also fears the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria which could further embolden its own 14 million ethnic Kurds.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday there were no immediate plans for any incursion into Syria, but said Turkey would respond if its security were threatened.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, and Gulsen Solaker in Ankara; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Gareth Jones