Turkey has arrested 19 militants affiliated with the Islamic State in its southern province of Gaziantep bordering Syria, its governor said on Thursday.
Gaziantep province governor Erdal Ata vehemently denied claims that the region was being used as a rear base for IS militants, saying Turkey was doing all it can to arrest or deport suspected IS members.
“Police and the security forces are showing all the necessary sensitivity on this issue,” he was quoted as saying by the private Dogan news agency.
“The trial of 19 suspects caught so far has been continuing and they are under arrest,” he said.
The governor also said police had caught suspected IS-linked jihadists coming from Europe or Caucasus, carrying backpacks, at the Gaziantep airport or at the border.
Ata said those believed to have committed crimes would be put on trial while suspected IS sympathisers would be deported.
He however strongly denied the claims that Gaziantep province hosted a camp of IS militants after some pictures purporting to show such a facility circulated in media outlets last week.
Ata said he himself scrutinised the pictures, implying they were fakes.
“We don’t have such a camp in our province and its presence… is out of the question,” he said.
Turkey has been criticised by some commentators for indirectly encouraging the formation of the Islamic State with its wholehearted support of Islamist elements within the Syrian rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.
Ankara denies that its strategy has backfired, but many critics say it could have done far more, sooner to tighten porous borders and stop the flow of militants into Syria.
After a lightning advance, IS militants now control swathes of Iraq and much of northern Syria on the Turkish border.
Turkey now sees itself a victim of the IS with Islamist militants holding 49 Turks hostage, including diplomats and children, abducted from the Turkish consulate in Mosul in Iraq on June 11.
Turkish officials are now refraining from giving almost any comments about the situation in Iraq and Syria, in apparent fear of aggravating the hostage situation.
The concerns come as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Barack Obama are expected to hold their first face-to-face meeting for the past year and a half, on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Wales.