ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A Turkish opposition legislator said Tuesday that at least 53 Turkish families — some with children — had crossed into Syria to join the Islamic State group in the past week alone and accused Turkey's government of doing little to stem the flow.
Comments by Atilla Kart, a member of main opposition Republican People's Party, came hours after Turkey's new prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, strongly rejected Western media reports that said many Turks were swelling the ranks of the jihadi group.
Kart told The Associated Press that at least 16 people from his constituency of Konya, in central Turkey, had traveled to a recruiting center at Turkey's border with Syria where they met up with other families, some with children. They were then smuggled across the border in small groups, Kart said.
He said the information was based on some family members of the 16 and on security officials who confirmed that the group had traveled to the border. Interior Ministry officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Speaking at a news conference during a visit to Cyprus, Davutoglu said there were many more people from other European countries signing up with the extremist group than there are Turks and insisted that Turkey was doing all it could to prevent the flow of potential Islamic State recruits.
Kart refuted that statement.
"Participation from Turkey is so high, there can be no comparison with other countries," he said.
The legislator said the Islamic State group was probably recruiting families with the aim of using them as "human shields" against possible attacks.
Davutoglu said he has asked European countries for closer cooperation to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria.
But he said Turkey's border with Syria remains open to accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting there.
Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus contributed to this report.