Turkey's Erdogan threatens to allow ISIS fighters to be released into Europe

President Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday the European Union's decision to sanction Turkey over drilling off the coast of Cyprus could disrupt talks with the bloc, and warned Turkey could send captured ISIS fighters to Europe.

Turkish president angered after EU slapped economic sanctions for violating Cypriot territory

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to continue drilling despite the European Union censure, the latest friction between the alliance and prospective member Turkey. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

President Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday the European Union's decision to sanction Turkey over drilling off the coast of Cyprus could disrupt talks with the bloc, and he warned Turkey could send captured Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters to Europe.

EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed economic sanctions on Ankara for violating Cyprus's maritime economic zone by drilling off the divided island.

Turkey, a formal candidate to join the EU despite worsening ties, criticized the decision and said it would not cease drilling in the eastern Mediterranean because it is operating on its own continental shelf or areas where Turkish Cypriots have rights.

Speaking in Ankara ahead of a visit to Washington, Erdogan slammed the EU's decision and said Turkey was acting in line with its rights based on international law.

"Hey EU, know this: Turkey is not one of those countries you have come to know until now. We are a country that sits at the negotiating table with you…" Erdogan told reporters. "These negotiations may suddenly end."

The EU relies on Ankara, which hosts more than 3.5 million refugees, to curb the arrival of migrants into Europe following a 2016 agreement to seal off the Aegean sea route. Erdogan has repeatedly warned that Turkey would allow refugees to travel to Europe unless it receives aid from European countries.

"You may take this lightly, but these doors [to Europe] will open and these [ISIS] members will be sent to you. Do not try to threaten Turkey over developments in Cyprus," Erdogan said on Tuesday.

Longstanding dispute

The island of Cyprus was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Since then, several peacemaking efforts have failed and the discovery of offshore resources has complicated the negotiations.

EU ties with NATO-ally Turkey have meanwhile worsened after years of stalemate on Ankara's accession bid. With a worsening record on human rights in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016, many EU states say Turkey does not meet democratic criteria to join the bloc.

The decision to impose economic sanctions on Ankara follows a separate move last month to stop arms sales to Turkey over its offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in northeast Syria. Turkey's western allies have said the offensive could hinder the fight against ISIS, but Turkey has rejected the claims.

On Monday, Turkey said it had begun deporting ISIS members it has captured, starting a program to repatriate the detainees that has further strained ties with its European NATO allies.

"Whether they accept them or not, we will continue to send them back," Erdogan said on Tuesday, referring to ISIS detainees.