Seven suspected members of an Islamic State cell in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir have reportedly been killed in a shootout with Turkish security services.
Two police officers were also killed in the incident that took place early on Monday, a source on the ground told Middle East Eye. The clashes are believed to be the first to take place between IS and Turkish security services on Turkish soil.
At least 12 further militants have also reportedly been arrested, according to sources on the ground, though their identities are still unknown. Police operations were reportedly continuing in the Diyarbakir district of Baglar, though the initial clashes with IS militants at three houses had ended by 9am local time (07.00 GMT).
The houses had reportedly been rigged with explosives.
Anadolu Agency said that security forces had feared that the militants were planning a major operation “such as hijacking a plane or a vessel or detonating suicide bombs in a crowded location”. IS and Kurdish activists have been overwhelmingly hostile due to the conflict between the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and IS in northern Syria, which Kurds refer to as West Kurdistan or Rojava, and anti-IS sentiment in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir has been very high.
In June, an explosion at a rally by the left-wing People’s Democracy Party (HDP) killed four people and injured over 100.
In July, another blast ripped through a pro-Kurdish rally in Suruc, killing more than 30 and injuring at least 100 others. Then on 10 October, another explosion killed 102 people, including many Kurdish and left-wing activists and injured many others.
Though no one has publicly claimed responsibility for the blasts, the Turkish government pointed the finger at IS, while also alleging the involvement of other groups including the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK, meanwhile, has blamed the government for not doing enough to stem the growth of IS in Syria and Turkey .
“IS has become threatening for the security of the state,” said Mahmut Borzarslan, a journalist who was at the scene in Diyarbakir. He said that, in the run-up to parliamentary elections set to take place on 1 November, the government was concerned that many Kurds blamed the authorities for previous IS attacks.
“In case they (IS) do anything here in Diyarbakir, people will think that some sources linked to the state were responsible and that they are trying to frighten Kurds,” he said. “For that reason they began operations.”
However, a number of Kurds have also joined IS fighters in Syria.
Clashes between Kurdish activists, mainly supporters of the PKK, have been continuous in Turkey’s southeast since the collapse of a two-year ceasefire in July, claiming the lives of hundreds of civilians, activists and police. The HDP have repeatedly called on the government to delay the elections as a result of the security situation and repeated threats against HDP activists.
On Sunday, the government announced it had dlayed the end of Daylight Saving Time in Turkey, so that elections could be held during daylight hours.