Erdogan: Around 20 ISIL members in custody for Istanbul airport attack

Islamic Extremism

A still image from a closed-circuit camera shows a man believed to be one of the attackers walking inside the terminal carrying a weapon as bystanders and travellers run for cover at Istanbul airport, Turkey A still image from a closed-circuit camera shows a man believed to be one of the attackers walking inside the terminal carrying a weapon as bystanders and travellers run for cover at Istanbul airport, Turkey June 28, 2016. (Haberturk Newspaper/Handout via Reuters)

Around 20 Islamic State militants, mainly foreigners, are in custody in connection with the attack last week on Istanbul airport that killed 45 people, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday.

Two Russian nationals have been identified as suspected Islamic State suicide bombers in the attack that is thought to have been masterminded by a Chechen, Turkish media said on Friday.

“The latest findings point to the Daesh (Islamic State) terrorist organisation,” Erdogan told Reuters at the Istanbul Ataturk airport, where he visited the attack site.

On Thursday, Turkey defied pressure from the European Union to amend its anti-terrorism laws, saying that a suicide bomb attack at Istanbul airport this week that killed 42 people provided further vindication of its tough stance.

But Turkish officials, in Brussels for further talks on their country’s decades-long bid to join the EU, also argued that the bloc needed Turkey, with its economic and geopolitical weight, more than ever after Britain’s vote last week to leave.

The EU repeated that Turkey should modify its anti-terrorism laws, saying they limit freedom of expression and allow arrests of rights activists. Ankara showed no sign of budging.

“Turkey today is fighting against terrorism,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a joint news conference with senior EU officials, referring to Tuesday’s gun and bomb attack by three suspected Islamic State militants.

“New demands directed at Turkey would encourage terrorists. We cannot make any changes in our anti-terror laws.”

The EU has tied a tightening of the anti-terrorism laws to progress in Turkey’s bid to win for its citizens the right to travel in Europe without visas. That right is part of a wider deal whereby Turkey also promises to take back Syrian and other migrants who leave its shores for the EU.

The EU’s deputy chief executive, who met Cavusoglu later on Thursday, struck a more upbeat tone, saying talks on the visa issue were progressing and would continue soon.

European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans tweeted: “Constructive talks with Turkey, where our views on how to implement remaining visa benchmarks largely converged.”

The Commission also aims to raise its aid fund for refugees in Turkey to 2 billion euros ($2.21 billion) by the end of July to pay for health services, schools and housing.