ANKARA (Reuters) - Nearly one-in-ten Turks do not regard Islamic State as a terrorist organisation, and more than 5 percent agree with their actions, according to a new survey published on Tuesday.
The data was released on the same day as a suspected Syrian suicide bomb attack in the heart of Istanbul’s tourist district which killed at least 10 people and raised fresh fears of Islamist violence in the NATO member country.
The United Nations, including Turkey, brand the group, which has taken swathes of land in Syria and Iraq, a terrorist organisation.
The research, entitled Turkey’s Social Trends Survey, was carried out by an Ankara-based think-tank and surveyed more than 1,500 people across Turkey — a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation — in November.
In response to questions, 9.3 percent of respondents said that Islamic State was not a terrorist organisation, with 5.4 percent supporting its actions.
Twenty-one percent said it represents Islam and 8.9 percent believe the group is a country or state, according to the research, which paints a picture of a small but significant pool of potential Islamic State sympathisers among Turkey’s 78 million inhabitants.
Conversely, fears over terrorism, both generally and specifically from Islamic State and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), dominated the list of concerns expressed by respondents.
“There are two conflicting positions that we have here,” Suleyman Ozeren, President of Global Policy and Strategy, the report’s authors, told Reuters.
“But the high number of people supporting IS actions should concern us. It also tells us that prevention of radicalisation policies should be the number one priority for the government. Once people are radicalised it’s very difficult to deradicalise them.”
Turkey has stepped up its fight against Islamists, playing an active role in the U.S.-led coalition bombing Islamic State in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.
Last year it was rocked by two suicide bomb attacks blamed on Islamic State in the southeastern town of Suruc and Ankara, the capital. In the latter, more than 100 people were killed.
Critics have at the same time accused the Turkish government of failing to crack down sufficiently on Islamist networks using Turkey as a route to smuggle would-be jihadists into Syria.
Ankara has also been caught in bitter conflict with PKK militants since the collapse of a ceasefire last July.
The Social Trends Survey covered a range of topics, including President Tayyip Erdogan’s desire to introduce an executive presidency.
Almost 50 percent said they favoured the current parliamentary system, with 28.6 percent in favour of a presidential system. More than 22 percent said they had no opinion or declined to answer.
Reporting by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Richard Balmforth