Turkish Interior Minister: No arms transfer to Syria under gendarmerie watch
Interior Minister Muammer Guler on Wednesday denied allegations of an arms transfer to Syria across the border without intervention from Turkish gendarmerie forces Today`s Zaman reported.
The allegations surfaced when main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu cited on Tuesday the court testimony of a truck driver arrested when police discovered his truck was loaded with almost 1,000 warheads apparently headed for Syria earlier this month. Kılıçdaroğlu quoted the driver as saying that the gendarmerie did not check the trailer of the truck before he unloaded the cargo only 200 meters from the gendarmerie checkpoint near the border with Syria in the province of Hatay.
Turkish daily Taraf published further excerpts from the court testimony of the driver. According to him, the gendarmerie forces at the checkpoint let the truck pass without inspecting it. The driver told the court he unloaded the cargo in a fenced area just 200 meters from the checkpoint that, according to the court document, is an al-Qaeda camp. Taraf said the court designated the area as an al-Qaeda camp based on police data and therefore arrested the suspects for "supplying arms to an armed terrorist group." The truck driver said the area where he unloaded the mortar shells is fenced and protected by Turkish gendarmerie units. He added that it is impossible for anyone to cross into the area without being checked by the gendarmerie.
Guler, speaking to reporters, categorically denied the charges of an arms transfer to Syria being allowed under the gendarmerie's watch and said the driver's testimony to the court is being investigated.
The driver told the court that all the pieces he carried were wrapped in plastic covers that were non-transparent and that he was not involved in the loading of the cargo.
Earlier this month, Turkish police seized a total of 935 rocket warheads and 10 launch pads in the southern city of Adana near the Syrian border. The ammunition was manufactured in Adana and Konya provinces, Adana Governor Huseyin Avni Coş told the press after the seizure.
Turkish police are still investigating allegations that the truck carrying the seized rocket warheads and 10 launch pads was destined for al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria. Coş earlier said the seizure of the weapons disproves claims that Turkey is aiding extremist groups in its war-torn neighbor.
The governor noted that the truck was on its way to Hatay province to be taken to the other side of the Turkish-Syrian border, adding that the investigation will reveal where the seized weapons were heading. Ten suspects were taken into custody for their alleged role in the production and transport of the weapons.
The truck was registered in central Turkey's Konya province and was en route to Adana when an anonymous call recorded at around 8:00 a.m. tipped off police that the truck was transporting a drug shipment. Unmarked police cars trailed the truck until it was received by an unidentified manufacturing firm in the metals industrial zone of Adana, 200 kilometers from the Turkish-Syrian border.
In his testimony to the court, a machinist from Konya said a Syrian man named Heysem Topalca, who is suspected of being an arms smuggler, came to him and asked to produce between 10,000 and 20,000 mortar shells. The machinist said he produced 1,179 mortar shells and sent them in three shipments. He said the same person also asked other machinists in Konya to produce such shells but that he was not aware of the details.
Another suspected machinist in Adana said Topalca came to him two months ago and asked him to produce mortar shells. He said he produced and delivered 178 of them.
The driver of the truck said he made similar shipments twice in the past to Reyhanlı and that police seized the truck when he was trying to load shells in Adana, in addition to 593 shells he took from Konya.