Turkey says Syria border region must be 'cleansed' of ISIS jihadists

People carry dead bodies into ambulances after an explosion in Gaziantep (AP).
People carry dead bodies into ambulances after an explosion in Gaziantep (AP).

Ankara - Turkey said on Monday Islamic State jihadists must be totally pushed out of the Syrian border region, after a weekend suicide bombing in the city of Gaziantep blamed on the group, left at least 54 dead.

"Our border must be completely cleansed from Daesh," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in televised remarks, using an Arabic acronym for the ISIS group.

"It is our most natural right to fight at home and abroad against such a terrorist organisation."

A child suicide bomber, aged "between 12 and 14," is suspected of carrying out the attack in the southeastern city of Gaziantep near the Syrian border late on Saturday on the orders of ISIS jihadists, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Cavusoglu said on Monday Turkey has already taken an "active" role in the fight against ISIS, allowing coalition forces to use a key base in the southern part of the country for air raids on the extremist group.

Quoting security sources, some Turkish media reported earlier the Gaziantep attack could have been retaliation by ISIS for an operation carried out by Ankara-backed opposition rebels against the jihadists in Jarablus in northern Syria.

Asked if the government supported the operation, Cavusoglu said: "We can back anyone, especially the moderate opposition fighting against Daesh on the ground".

"We will fight Daesh to the end and continue to support countries and forces fighting them," he added, without giving further details.

Cavusoglu said Turkey was a "prime target of Daesh" because the government had dried up the group's resources of foreign terrorist fighters, placing an entry ban on 55 000 members and deporting around 4 000 suspects.

"In this sense we have dealt the biggest blow to Daesh," he said.

The foreign minister said Turkey and Erdogan played a key role in defeating the ideology of ISIS, adding: "Therefore, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is their number-one target".

Turkey was long accused of turning a blind eye to or even abetting the rise of ISIS in Syria, claims it vehemently denies.

However Western states say Ankara has begun to move strongly against the group and seal its borders to jihadist traffic after the attacks blamed on ISIS on its soil this year.

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