Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that up to 700 Turkish nationals have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), sounding the alarm over the risk of attacks inside Turkey if those fighters return home. He said that there are around 500 to 700 Turkish citizens who have joined ISIS.
"A common concern about the foreign fighters is what will happen when they return to their homeland. We have this concern too," he said on his way back to Turkey from Turkish Cyprus.
He added that Turkey had barred entry to around 7,250 people from abroad who were planning to join ISIS, and said that 1,160 would-be foreign fighters were also deported.
His comments came a week after three gunmen killed 17 people in Paris when they attacked the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.
Ankara said on Monday that Hayat Boumeddiene, the wanted partner of one of the gunmen, crossed into Syria via Turkey days before the attacks, amid reports that she may have joined ISIS. Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey was not at fault for failing to detain her, saying French authorities had not acted on intelligence provided by Ankara even before they asked for it.
"How could I know whether she was going to join ISIS? If they have such intelligence, why didn't they stop her before she left France?" he asked.
He added that Turkey is taking "extreme measures" to ensure security along its 911-kilometer border with Syria, but will never be able to make it completely watertight.
"A way[into Syria] can always be found," he said.
Çavuşoğlu said Turkey was also an open target for ISIS because of its condemnation of the group as a "merciless terrorist organization that does not represent Islam in any way."
"A country that speaks like this is of course an open target for terror [attacks]. We therefore have to be cautious and take necessary measures," he said.
Turkey, located as it is next to Syria, is out of necessity a member of the anti-ISIS coalition led by the U.S., but has been harshly criticized by international media outlets, which assert that Ankara does not accept a front-line role in the fight against ISIS. Among Turkey's strategic suggestions to deal with ISIS are calls for a no-fly zone and safe zones in Syrian territory, plus the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.