ANKARA (AFP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday launched one of his strongest attacks yet against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, saying the group was a “virus” working to destroy the Muslim community.
Ankara has been repeatedly criticised in recent months for not doing enough to halt the advance of ISIS to its borders, but Erdogan said after meeting Iraqi President Fuad Masum that the group had to be confronted.
The ISIS group “is an important virus that is working to divide and destroy the ummah", Erdogan told reporters in televised comments, using the term for the global community of Muslims.
He said other groups had followed the same path but that IS had proved more adept at using its resources.
“An international strategy is essential to drain this swamp. Even if Daesh is destroyed, something will emerge under a different name,” said Erdogan, using another term used to refer to ISIS.
“Where do its weapons and financing come from? We need to focus on this,” Erdogan said.
Masum, whose forces are battling to win back swathes of territory that were lost to ISIS including its second city Mosul, echoed Erdogan’s description of the group as a virus.
“This virus can pass from this region to other regions. The countries in the region have serious responsibilities,” Masum said.
Turkey had itself been accused of aiding ISIS in the early stages of its existence, as a useful ally in the fight against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Erdogan wants to see ousted.
Ankara has bitterly rejected the charges and accused the West of not fully understanding the challenges of sharing a border with war-torn Syria.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Ankara had done all it could to close its borders to extremists but had to remain open to refugees as well as “30-40 million tourists” a year.
Davutoglu said ISIS had emerged as a result of Assad’s policies and added that the group “carried more risk to Turkey than anyone else.”
“It is easy to criticise Turkey from capitals without being a neighbour to a country like Syria where a civil war is taking place,” he added at a news conference alongside Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Abbott for his part said Turkey was doing “its best” to thwart IS which he described as a threat to the “whole world”.