Turkish police detains three Brits trying to join Daesh

Published March 15th, 2015 - 04:16 GMT

Turkish authorities detained three British teenagers in Istanbul while the trio were on their way to join the Islamic State (Daesh) in Syria, Turkish officials said Sunday.

According to Reuters, Turkey plans to deport the three teens back to England this week. British and Turkish police worked together to stop the two 17-year-olds and the 19-year-old after British counter-terrorism officers became aware of their plans.

“Officers alerted the Turkish authorities who were able to intercept all three males, preventing travel to Syria. They remain in detention in Turkey. The families have been kept informed of developments,” a police statement said.

The Islamic State has thus far attracted thousands of foreign fighters from Europe and elsewhere. These foreign supporters are necessary to bolster and maintain the group’s control over swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq. But that influx of fighters might not be enough.

Iraqi forces are now two weeks into their largest operation against the terrorist organization. And while inroads have been made in the fight against the Islamic State stronghold, Iraqi forces now say coalition air strikes are needed to completely retake Tikrit, where die-hard jihadists are defending their last redoubt with trenches, sandbags and roadside bombs.

Iraqi forces now have a stranglehold on the city but are unable to launch a final assault, they said.

Staff Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi said he had asked the defense ministry to request coalition involvement, but “no air support” from foreign allies had yet been provided.

Asked if US-led coalition airstrikes were needed, Saadi said: “Of course… the Americans have advanced equipment, they have AWACS (surveillance) aircraft.”

Saadi said that support from the Iraqi air force had been “limited” and not always sufficiently accurate.

Fighters from the Imam Ali Brigade, a Shiite militia involved in the Tikrit operation, complained to AFP that a Sukhoi jet had even bombed pro-government forces by mistake.

Since IS fighters took the city in June 2014, they have planted bombs underneath every road, according to residents who fled Tikrit.

One police officer gave an estimate of 10,000 IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Tikrit, making any military advance perilous.

One senior officer said he could envision the battle of Tikrit lasting two more weeks.

Iran's involvement

Saadi said he thought the reason there had been no coalition airstrikes on Tikrit was political, not military.

Shiite Iran has been Baghdad’s main foreign partner in the operation and Tehran’s top commander in charge of external operations, Qassem Soleimani, has been omnipresent on the front lines.

Officials in Washington have expressed unease at the level of Iranian involvement in Tikrit, an overwhelmingly Sunni city which was executed dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown.

Coalition air strikes have supported several other operations to reclaim jihadist-held territory in Iraq in recent months, including some in which Iran-backed Shiite militias were involved.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced by this offensive. Tikrit once had an estimated population of 200,000 but it is unclear how many civilians remain in the war-torn city.

The offensive also has an unexpected supporter. The Vatican’s envoy to the United Nations in Geneva has endorsed military action against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria — an unusual move because the Vatican traditionally has opposed force in the region.

In an interview with the US Catholic website Crux, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi said IS fighters were committing atrocities on a huge scale and the world needed to intervene.

“We have to stop this kind of genocide,” the Italian archbishop told Crux. “Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t do something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.”

Tomasi said a coordinated and “well-thought-out coalition” was needed to do everything possible to achieve a political settlement without violence.

“But if that’s not possible, then the use of force will be necessary,” he added.

Pope Francis has denounced the “intolerable brutality” being inflicted on Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria by IS group militants.

Last month, IS kidnapped 220 Assyrians in the Tal Tamr area of Syria where the extremist Islamist group has seized control of 10 Christian villages, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

And the pope expressed his dismay after the group’s Libyan branch released a video showing the gruesome beheading of 21 mostly Egyptian Coptic Christians.

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