The Sunni militant group ISIL has increased attacks in Syria near the border with Turkey. A growing number of Turks fear the violence could spread to their country. Earlier this month, a mosque in Istanbul was burned down. The building belonged to Turkey's Shi'ite Muslim minority. Officials blamed the attack on ISIL.
The city of Istanbul is home to large numbers of followers of both Sunni Islam and Shi'ite Islam – or Jafari Islam, as it is known in Turkey. But tensions between the two sides have been rising following the burning of Istanbul’s Jafari Muhamadiye Mosque.
Turkey’s neighbors Iraq and Syria have seen growing religious unrest between Sunnis and Shi'ites. The violence has mainly been blamed on the rise of ISIL -- the Sunni group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Now the group simply calls itself the Islamic State. It considers Shi'ites heretics – individuals who dispute accepted religious beliefs.
Sinan Ulgen is with the Carnegie Europe Institute in Brussels. He says fears are growing that ISIL's war is coming to Turkey.
"There are allegations that some members of a network that claim to be close to ISIL have engineered this. Some of these militants groups have been able to establish their networks over the years, at the time the Turkish government turned (a) blind eye to many of these opposition groups. It just shows you Turkey is not going to be safe from all the instability from Syria."
Turkey's ruling Islamist-based AK Party is one of the main supporters of the rebels fighting the Syrian government. The attack on the mosque in Istanbul has not been the only incident. The city’s Shi'ites say they have been the target of increasing sectarian violence.
Sectarian Divide Fueled by Politics?
Politics could also be partly to blame for the rising tensions. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a candidate for president in elections this month. He is seeking support among his largely conservative Sunni religious base. Critics have accused him of increasingly using language aimed at Shi'ites. He also has resisted calls to condemn the mosque attack.
Mehmet Gomez is head of the Diyanet, the agency that administers the Islamic religion in Turkey. He did visit the mosque in an attempt to bridge differences.
Observers say such actions could ease rising tensions and concerns over the growing danger of militant groups like ISIL.
However, ISIL flags and signs are increasingly seen at protests organized by Islamic groups. This suggests that at least some Sunnis in Turkey have sympathy for the group. Experts warn that ISIL's increasing presence is likely to put pressure on Turkey’s diverse society. I’m Mario Ritter.
Words in the News
tensions – n. a condition of having fear or concern
blame – v. to accuse; to hold responsible
incident – n. an event or something that happens
candidate – n. a person who seeks or is nominated for an
office or an honor
critics – n. people who say what is wrong with something or
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