ISTANBUL — Turkish riot police wearing helmets and carrying plastic shields entered Istanbul University Wednesday morning to respond to another clash between students protesting for and against the Islamic State, according to a local Turkish news outlet and a student at the school.
Today’s Zaman, an English-language daily in Turkey, reported that police detained three pro-Islamic State demonstrators, who were wielding sticks and carrying masks. An Istanbul University student also told The WorldPost that an altercation had taken place.
The incident is the third time in the last week that hostilities have been reported on campus between groups protesting for and against the militant group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
On Sept. 26, masked students carrying nail-studded planks attacked classmates who had set up a stand denouncing the group’s extremist ideology and brutality. The incident was caught on video. Students criticized the university’s security personnel for failing to prevent the attack and protect the students, according to Hurriyet Daily News, a popular Turkish news site.
Rumors are running wild in the country and abroad about Turkey’s murky relationship with the Islamic State, which has attracted international attention in recent months thanks to its rapid territorial gains and its brutal tactics.
The Turkish government has been criticized for failing to prevent the frequent smuggling of fighters in and out of Syria and for not curbing Islamic State recruiting within Turkey. Much of Turkey’s 500-mile border with Syria is porous, allowing participants in Syria’s civil war to cross the border to fight or to base themselves in southeast Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has slammed reports of Turkey turning a blind eye to Islamic State recruitment in Ankara as a “smear campaign.” The government says it is doing everything in its power to put an end to extremist activity.
The Islamic State in June took 46 Turkish citizens hostage from the Turkish Consulate in Mosul, Iraq, dragging Turkey even deeper into the war on its borders. The hostages’ mysterious release in late September, and the government’s refusal to give details on how their freedom was secured, has sparked even more rumor.
Meanwhile, over 1.5 million Syrian refugees are seeking refuge in Turkey, with the government struggling to support the massive — and growing — refugee population. At a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Istanbul on Monday, Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s chief policy adviser, told reporters and aid workers that Turkey would maintain an open border for refugees until the Syrian war ended, however long that takes.
One 23-year-old communications major at Istanbul University told The WorldPost by phone that she didn’t think the school administration or the government were doing enough to crack down on the militant group, despite the arrest of pro-Islamic State protesters on Wednesday.
“I think the police just came because of the media,” said the student, who gave her name only as Beril. “To say, ‘See, we arrested them.’ But I think they’ll release them in a day.”
Beril said that many of her friends have recently joined protests against the extremist group, despite attacks and hostility from a small number of students who support the Islamic State.
“They can do anything,” Beril said of the Islamic State and its supporters. “If you say something wrong, they can attack you. It’s really scary.”