Turkey to fight Islamic State 'until the end'

A woman lays tribute cards for the victims who were killed in the attacks (AAP)
A woman lays tribute cards for the victims who were killed in the attacks (AAP)

The Kurds have long been Turkish enemy number one, but that could change in the wake of the attack on Istanbul Ataturk Airport.

At least 41 were killed and more than 200 injured when gunmen opened fire and blew themselves up at the airport Wednesday morning (NZ time).

There have been numerous terror attacks in Turkey this year, including car bombs in Ankara which killed 28 in February and 34 in March.

Despite most of the attacks coming from Kurdish groups, Otago University international relations expert Robert Patman says Turkey, a member of NATO, may be about to refocus its efforts on Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it a "turning point" in the fight.

"He may be signalling that's he's prepared to align himself more closely with the United States," Dr Patman told Paul Henry on Thursday.

"He's always been, at least seen through American eyes, semi-detached in the way he's gone after ISIS. He's said quite publicly and clearly his major enemy were the Syrian Kurds first, and ISIS second. There may be a reordering of those priorities because ISIS has been involved in a number of shocking atrocities this year in Turkey. It may have forced the Turkish leadership to reassess that listing of priorities."

While both the Ankara car bombings were claimed by Kurdish factions, IS - the prime suspect in this week's airport attack - has been relatively quiet about its actions in Turkey.

"One of the reasons is Turkey has been an important passageway for ISIS and its connection with Europe," says Dr Patman.

"It doesn't always want to advertise that it's actually responsible for the bombings, but clearly it's been very angered by Turkey's role in the war against ISIS."

Dr Patman says though Turkey has primarily focused its military efforts on the Kurds, many people don't realise Turkey is shouldering the biggest burden of the Syrian civil war and the fight against IS of any US-allied country.

"Turkey actually is hosting 2.5 million refugees who fled across the border into Turkey from Syria. Turkey and Syria share a 500-mile border, and in that sense Turkey is at the sharp end of the Syrian civil war," he says.

"Turkey's role in the civil war in fighting ISIS, is complicated by the fact it has other enemies which it goes after in the war in Syria, in particular the Syrian Kurds."

Mr Erdogan has promised to "fight against terrorism until the end".

Istanbul Ataturk Airport has already reopened.