Turkish governor blocks police search on Syria-bound truck reportedly carrying weapons

Turkish governor blocks police search on Syria-bound truck reportedly carrying weapons

Fevzi Kızılkoyun ANKARA / Hürriyet
Turkish governor blocks police search on Syria-bound truck reportedly carrying weapons

In the only official statement with regard to the truck, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said it was carrying aid to Turkmens in Syria but did not give details about its cargo. AA Photo

The mystery surrounding a truck seized for allegedly carrying weapons to Syria is deepening after reports that an official search of the cargo was prevented by Hatay Gov. Celalettin Lekesiz and that security forces that had stopped the truck were removed from their positions.

A prosecutor charged with terror issues sought to have the gendarmerie search the truck, but a written instruction from the governor’s office halted the process. The truck continued on its route after the prosecutor noted the development.

In the only official statement with regard to the truck, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said it was carrying aid to Turkmens in Syria but did not give details about its cargo.

Upon questions about conflicting reports on the truck, Ala told reporters: “Conflicting reports? There is nothing to do. There are Turkmens there. The aid is for them. Everybody has to know one’s own job.”

The statement came only hours after daily Radikal published an official document issued by Lekesiz underlining that the seized truck and its personnel belonged to the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and that they should immediately be set free.

According to allegations, a team of police from Hatay’s Terror and Organized Crime Department started to follow a truck that embarked from Reyhanlı, on the Syrian border, on a tipoff that it was carrying weapons and ammunition to Syria. The truck was stopped near a gendarmerie outpost on the Reyhanlı-Kırıkhan road. The driver and two other men in the truck did not allow the police to make a search of the cargo as the venue was beyond the police’s area of authority.

A gendarmerie team that searched the truck and discovered ammunition, weapons and some humanitarian aid in the cargo informed both the chief prosecutor and Lekesiz before parking the truck in the parking lot of a nearby factory until the prosecutor arrived at the scene. In the meantime, the three occupants of the vehicle were detained.

Prosecutor Özcan Şişman, who was also tasked with probing the Reyhanlı bombing last spring that killed dozens of people, instructed gendarmerie to make an official search of the truck by emptying its cargo. The gendarmerie, however, was prevented from obeying the prosecutor as it received a written order from the governor instructing them not to search the truck.

Şişman departed the scene after noting all the developments, while the gendarmerie released the truck after it made its own reported late on Jan. 1.
The truck was allegedly planning to cross into Syria from the Öncüpınar Border Gate of another bordering town, Kilis. But after the development, the truck returned to Reyhanlı from where it embarked for Syria. The truck was hired by a person who has links with a humanitarian foundation.

Opposition criticism

Hatay lawmakers from the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) were among the few politicians who witnessed the seizure and the release of the truck late Jan. 1.

“I talked both to officials and the local gendarmerie commander. The prosecutor came to the scene and instructed them to search the cargo. But law enforcement bodies did not implement [the order] because they received a written instruction from the governor,” CHP Hatay MP Hasan Akgöl told reporters. “Weapons and ammunitions are being sent to Syria under the control of the government and MİT and no one is stopping it.”

Refik Eryılmaz, another CHP Hatay deputy, said weapons and ammunition were being transferred to both al-Qaeda and the Free Syrian Army on a daily basis within the knowledge of government officials.
The conflicting reports about the truck and its cargo pushed the CHP to take the issue to Parliament. Both Umut Oran and Sezgin Tanrıkulu, deputy leaders of the CHP, issued parliamentary questions on the developments, asking the prime minister about the truck’s cargo and destination. “Is it true that MİT personnel were also on the truck?” asked Oran.

MİT personnel reported to be on board

An official document posted on the Radikal’s website showed that the truck and its personnel were on a MİT mission and that laws prevented other law enforcement bodies from taking any sort of action without first obtaining consent from the Prime Minister’s Office.

According to the document, Lekesiz’s written instruction warned law enforcement officials that legal action could be taken against them if they stopped MİT personnel in an irregular way. There are claims that police officers who followed the truck and stopped it were removed from their positions after the development.

On Nov. 7, 2013, another truck with a cargo of rocket heads was seized by the police on a tipoff about an illegal drug transfer. The truck was believed to be headed for Syria.

Initial reports said the truck had been hired by the pro-Islamic Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH). But İHH dismissed the allegations, saying, “Our organization has nothing to do with this case.”

Turkey is a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has openly supported the rebels fighting his government, but has always denied arming them. In December 2013, local media reported that Turkey had shipped 47 tons of weapons to the rebels since June.

'Turkey in direct assistance to its ethnic kin'

Interior Minister Efkan Ala’s statement that the truck was transporting aid to Turkmens in Syria constitutes the first ever confession that Turkey was in direct assistance to its ethnic kin.

The fact that the gendarmerie’s initial search showed it was carrying weapons and ammunition, the situation shows Turkey is providing military assistance to Turkmens in Syria, where the civil war has spread to almost all parts of the country. A mostly unarmed and peaceful group, Turkmens are suffering under the turmoil in Syria and are stuck between different rival groups.