Turkey Announces Arrest of a Major Islamic State Militant

The Turkish authorities on Tuesday announced the arrest of Mahmut Ozden, described as a top Islamic State figure in Turkey, and said they had recovered evidence that the group was planning an attack in the country.

Suleyman Soylu, Turkey’s interior minister, announced Mr. Ozden’s arrest in a post on Twitter and said he had been “caught with important plans.” Mr. Soylu thanked the police for their work in apprehending him.

Mr. Ozden is well known to the Turkish authorities and has been arrested more than once before, including detentions in 2018 and 2019.

Mr. Soylu, speaking later in a televised address from Giresun — an area recently hit by deadly floods — said that Mr. Ozden had “continuously” received orders from Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He was also leading groups of 10 to 12 people to formulate plans to carry out attacks against Turkey, according to information obtained from his computer and other digital material, Mr. Soylu said.

According to the state-run news agency, Anadolu, the security forces detained Mr. Ozden in Adana, a city in southern Turkey, after they had arrested another member of the Islamic State group who was also preparing an attack in Istanbul. Three others were also detained in the same operation over links to the militant group, the news agency said.

Mr. Soylu also said Mr. Ozden had been involved in a plot to abduct prominent figures and take them to Syria, and also intended to carry out an operation that “would hurt Turkey economically.’’

“Very clear orders and action plans were seized about the abduction of politicians and statesmen to Syria,” he said, before noting the investigation into Mr. Ozden is ongoing.

The authorities in Turkey have conducted periodic raids aimed at members of the Islamic State, which has carried out a number of attacks in the country.

In January 2017, the group claimed responsibility for a shooting at an Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people. An attack on the international airport in Istanbul in June 2016 that officials attributed to the Islamic State left 41 people dead. A bombing carried out by the group in the city in March 2016 killed 12 people.

Unlike many of its allies, Turkey never criminalized travel to areas in Syria and Iraq that the Islamic State held at the height of its power. Critics say Turkey has done little to monitor the thousands of fighters who have returned to Turkish soil since much of the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate was lost.

Analysts say this new arrest does not necessarily indicate an increased risk of attack from the Islamic State in Turkey, or a fundamental shift in Turkey’s approach to combating the extremists. In a report issued last month, the United States’ military’s mission in Iraq and Syria called Turkey a “major facilitation hub” for Islamic State militants, funding and weapons.

But the report noted that Turkish security forces had increased operations against the group in recent months and had improved security along the border with Syria and Iraq.

Fadi Hakura, the manager of the Turkey project at Chatham House, a London-based research organization, said the arrest of Mr. Ozden like other Islamic State members before him does not signify a major adjustment in Turkey’s approach. Mr. Hakura said the underlying priority for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is the removal of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

The commitment to that goal has included cooperating closely with militant groups in the north of Syria, including extremist Islamist groups linked to the Islamic State.

“I think these arrests are meant to indicate their determination to fight militants with an anti- Western orientation,” Mr. Hakura said. “But fundamentally, these arrests do not indicate any fundamental change in Turkey’s posture in Syria, particularly as it continues cooperating with groups classified as extremists.”

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