Responding to threats by the Islamic State group to disrupt Turkey’s constitutional referendum on Sunday, Turkish authorities have detained scores of people nationwide suspected of links to the outlawed terror group.
IS called on its followers to attack polling places during the referendum, in which voters will make a yes-or-no choice on whether Turkey should shift from its current parliamentary system of government to an executive presidency. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration has been campaigning hard and marshaling media resources to press for a “yes” vote, which would greatly expand the president’s powers.
In a directive to its followers, IS said, “Choosing a lawmaker other than God is a curse.” The admonition was published in the latest issue of Rumiyah, an online magazine the extremists use for propaganda and recruitment.
IS issued a similar call earlier this month in its Arabic newsletter El-Naba, asking its supporters in Turkey — including “lone wolves,” those who are not part of any organized cell or group of fighters — to sabotage the referendum in any way possible. The goal is to prevent Turks from voting, Islamic State said, adding: “Use whatever means you have at hand to create ultimate chaos.”
All who take part in the referendum, whatever their political sympathies, are heretics and infidels, IS said in a rallying call to its sympathizers: “We are asking all our brothers to target all polling places. Strike those places, burn them, destroy and demolish them. Kill all those heretics and polytheists who go to vote.”
Since the IS threats were issued, Turkish police and security forces have begun operations in provinces throughout the country, rounding up those suspected of ties to IS.
Security forces detained five people in Istanbul. Turkish media reports detailed more than 20 arrests linked to Islamic State in the provinces of Istanbul, Adana, Gaziantep, Kirikkale and Mersin.
There were no official reports on the total number of those detained nationwide, but it was believed that scores of suspects were arrested. The government-funded Anatolian news agency reported that those in custody were preparing “sensational attacks” in connection with the referendum.
Prosecutors in Mersin province, on the Mediterranean coast in southern Turkey, said they had received intelligence reports warning of possible attacks on Sunday. and that a number of suspects with links to IS had been arrested. A prosecutors’ statement added: “Turkish police are still looking for three more suspects. During searches at the suspects’ homes, police also found various printed IS publications, digital materials, a hunting rifle and some ammunition.”
Since Turkey took on a larger role in the coalition campaign against Islamic State in neighboring Syria and Iraq in mid-2015, the country has been targeted by IS militants several times.
Turkey recently concluded its Operation Euphrates Shield, an eight-month campaign in Syrian border areas aimed at crushing IS operations there.