ISTANBUL - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday proposed the formation of a body within the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to solidify and institutionalise cooperation against terrorism.

This came in Erdogan’s opening speech to the opening session of the 13th OIC Summit held in Istanbul, under the theme “Unity and Solidarity for Justice and Peace”. The two-day summit is attended by heads of states and governments from over 30 countries.

It is necessary to conduct operations against terrorist groups on the ground, while there should be efforts to target those organisations’ financial and human resources, Erdogan said.

International cooperation is vital in this regard and establishing a body that would “solidify and institutionalise cooperation against terror within the OIC is the right step to take,” he added.

Erdogan, whose country was handed over presidency of the OIC Summit, noted that terrorism is among the gravest problems facing the Islamic world.

Muslim states have to work out solutions, instead of waiting for help from others. Erdogan decried the devastation of Afghanistan, where hundreds of thousands Muslims were killed and millions mistreated by Al-Qaeda.

Now, the so-called Islamic State (IS) or Daesh, which controls vast areas in Iraq and Syria and tries to get control of Libya, “serves the same dirty plans”. “We see Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, which conduct terror attacks in Africa, in the same category. Apart from a few attacks for show, all these terror organisations oppress and harm all Muslims,” Erdogan stressed.

The Turkish president maintained that these terror organisations do not represent Islam which is a “religion of peace and compromise.” These organisations oppress and harm all Muslims.

He emphasised that Muslims are in dire need to overcome “the instigation of sectarianism”. Calling for unity and solidarity among the Muslim states, the Turkish leader hoped the conference would serve as an occasion to dissolve problems and conflicts. He slammed the West’s double standards in dealing with terrorist organisations.

Erdogan urged Muslim leaders to end sectarian divisions in the Islamic world. “I believe the greatest challenge we need to surmount is sectarianism. My religion is not that of Sunnis, of Shiites. My religion is Islam,” Erdogan said.

“We should be uniting. Out of the conflicts, the tyranny, only the Muslims suffer,” he said, adding the summit meeting could be a “turning point” for the whole Islamic world.

He said that the OIC had accepted a Turkish proposal to set up a multinational police coordination centre for Islamic states to fight militants, to be based in Istanbul.

“We need to establish an organisation to further strengthen cooperation in the fight against terror,” he said.

A security lockdown has been thrown around the summit venue in Istanbul, the former capital of the Ottoman Empire from where the Sultans for centuries ruled Muslims from the Balkans to Arabia.

Some 5,000 extra police have been deployed in Istanbul to ensure the event passes smoothly after two deadly suicide attacks blamed on jihadists in Istanbul this year alone.

But Turkey’s own policies in the Middle East have been controversial, with several Muslim states objecting to the Islamic-rooted government’s backing of rebels in Syria.

While the summit marks one of the most significant gatherings of heads of state for years in Istanbul, some high profile leaders like Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are notable by their absence.

Turkey’s relations with Cairo have still not recovered from the 2013 ousting of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, a close ally of Ankara, while ties with Amman are being tested by differences over Syria.

Turkey took over the chairmanship of the OIC from Egypt, whose Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry read a brief message from Sisi emphasising Cairo’s commitment to the group.

Shoukry conspicuously made no reference to the Turkish president in his speech but Erdogan also pointedly thanked Cairo for its efforts.

Key guests at the summit included Saudi King Salman and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in a rare public encounter although there were reports the two men had exchanged words.

The run-up to the summit saw a landmark visit by King Salman to the Turkish capital Ankara which highlighted the dramatic improvement in ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia since he came to the throne in 2015.

Overseen by Erdogan and Salman, the two countries’ foreign ministers on Thursday signed a memorandum on creating a Saudi-Turkish Coordination Council to further deepen bilateral relations.

Addressing the summit, Salman said “we are obliged today, more than ever, to fight terrorism” and appeared to lash out at Tehran, without naming the Islamic Republic.

He denounced “flagrant interference in the affairs of several Islamic countries... instigating sedition and divisions, inciting sectarianism and using armed militia to undermine our security,” according to the official SPA agency.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey both believe the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad is the key to solving the Syrian conflict and back rebel groups fighting his regime.

Analysts have warned however that Turkey needs to tread carefully in its alliance with Saudi Arabia, which is also overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, so it is not seen as a sectarian union aimed at Shiite Iran.

In a sign of Ankara’s desire to maintain a delicate balance, Rouhani is due to begin a bilateral visit to Turkey after the summit.