WASHINGTON – Turkish intelligence, under the apparent direction of then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, allegedly has been authorizing the smuggling of arms to al-Qaida cells in Syria, according to informed Turkish sources.
The weapons, said to include rocket warheads, were allegedly smuggled in up to seven container trucks under the direction of Turkish Intelligence, or MIT, but were ordered halted by Aziz Takci, the public prosecutor for the southern Turkish city of Adana.
Takci, however, was subsequently removed from his post, and 13 of his soldiers involved in searching the trucks were charged in court with “espionage,” a charge that can carry up to 20 years in prison.
Huseyin Celik, the deputy chairman of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, reportedly was adamant in claiming the trucks were from the MIT.
“What is inside [the trucks] doesn’t concern anyone. Who are these prosecutors working for? Stopping MIT trucks means not knowing your limits,” Celik said. “The prosecutors who make such mistakes will be held accountable.”
The alleged smuggling operation orchestrated by the MIT was revealed in numerous documents hacked from the Gendarmerie Command and leaked on the Internet, Middle East expert Fehim Tastekin told al-Monitor.
While he was still prime minister before recently becoming Turkish president, Erdogan had given a speech saying that the MIT trucks cannot be stopped.
“You cannot search it,” he said in a speech last year. “You don’t have the authority. These trucks were taking humanitarian assistance to Turkmens.”
According to the hacked documents, however, Turkish intelligence smuggling of weapons to al-Qaida occurred last year and may still be occurring, suggesting that such activities continue to be sanctioned by Erdogan, who now is the Turkish president.
Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has refused to join the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
In addition, the government of Sunni Islamic Turkey has made it clear that its first priority is to topple the government of Assad – who is Alawite, an offshoot of Shia Islam – not to fight ISIS.
Turkey also continues to be a conduit for laundering money and providing fighters for ISIS and other jihadist radical groups fighting in Syria.
The documents further reveal that once the Adana prosecutor had ordered the vehicles searched, they then were escorted to the Seyhan Gendarmerie Command for an in-depth search. Despite MIT personnel attempting to stop the inspection, the search reportedly was videotaped and revealed six metallic containers found in the three trucks.
The first truck had 30 missiles or rockets and 15 crates of ammunition. The second truck had 25 missiles or rockets, 25 crates of mortars and Douchka anti-aircraft ammunition. These containers were said to have messages on the outside in Cyrillic.
Once the governor of Adana, Huseyin Avni Cos, had arrived where the trucks were being detained, he reportedly ordered the trucks traveling on “the prime minister’s orders” to be released.
One of the drivers, Murat Kislakci, gave a disposition of events, according to the hacked documents.
“This cargo was loaded into our trucks from a foreign airplane at Ankara Esenboga Airport,” he said. “We are taking them to Reyhanli [on the border with Syria]. Two men [MIT personnel] in the Audi are accompanying us.
“At Reyhanli, we hand over the trucks to two people in the Audi. They check us into a hotel,” the driver, Kislakci, said. “The trucks move to cross the border. We carried similar loads several times before. We were working for the state. In Ankara, we were leaving our trucks at an MIT location.
“They used to tell us to come back at 7 a.m.,” he added. “I know the cargo belongs to MIT. We were at ease. This was an affair of state. This was the first time we collected cargo from the airport and for the first time we were allowed to stand by our trucks during the loading.”
Tastekin said the government immediately covered up the entire operation. It went so far as to impose press censorship by having a court in Adana ban any media coverage.
Turkey recently has clamped down on press reports, especially those critical of its continued dealings with jihadist radical groups.
As WND reported, Turkish intelligence had threatened journalist Serena Shim, who was covering the battle of Kobani in neighboring Syria and had reported that ISIS jihadists were being smuggled into Turkey and back into Syria in the back of humanitarian aid vehicles.
An American of Lebanese origin, Shim was covering the ISIS attacks on Kobani for the Iranian-owned English language Press TV, based in Beirut.
Shim was killed in a car crash in the city of Suruc near the southern Turkish-Syrian border. Just days before her death, however, she had expressed concern to colleagues and later on camera that she could be arrested by Turkish officials over her reporting.
There have been other reports of Turkish smuggling of arms to al-Qaida, its affiliate in Syria, the Jabhat al-Nusra, as well as to jihadist fighters of the Islamic State.
In December 2014, the United Nations had issued a report confirming that Turkey is involved in supplying arms to various Sunni jihadist groups.
“Most [arms] supplies have either been seized from the armed forces of Iraq or (to a lesser extent) the Syrian Arab Republic, or have been smuggled to ISIS and al-Nusra, primarily by routes that run through Turkey,” a report by the U.N. al-Qaida Sanctions Committee said.
Turkey, however, continues to deny such allegations.
F. Michael Maloof, senior staff writer for WND/ G2Bulletin, is a former security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He can be contacted at [email protected].