Fresh arrests in Turkish military over smuggling weapons to Syria

Reuters / Stringer
Eight Turkish soldiers have been arrested on charges of smuggling weapons into Syria. These are the latest incidents in a massive scandal, which follows numerous allegations leveled at Ankara for supplying jihadists fighting in Syria with weapons.

Arrest warrants were initially issued for 10 soldiers, eight of whom were in police custody by Friday evening, Turkey’s Anatolia news agency reported on Saturday. The charges are membership in a terrorist group, espionage and impeding the work of the government. The court will decide whether they should be kept in custody until the start of the trial.

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Violence has grown at an alarming pace in the region since the start of the Syrian conflict nearly four years ago, which has to date claimed more than 200,000 lives, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This led to Turkey finally starting inspections in the southern Hatay and Adana provinces near the border in January 2014, specifically for the purpose of catching arms shipments.

Turkish intelligence involvement is strongly suspected, owing to documents circulating online, which support the prior allegations made against Turkey, according to the Anatolia news agency. Turkish newspaper, the Yurt, has been circulating documents allegedly proving Turkish intelligence actually carried out attacks on Syrian villages. An accompanying video featured Turkish-speaking attackers. The newspaper relied on a number of witness testimonies gathered on the border, where most of the violence occurred, as people in camps were easy targets for the terrorists.

The suspicions were followed by the government initiating a full media blackout, which included social media. Strict levels of secrecy have been imposed on the following investigation, according to the news agency.

The Syrian president, as many others have, accused Turkey of colluding with the likes of the Islamic State in order to bring down his government – allegations Istanbul has always denied. Saudi Arabia and Qatar also made it onto Assad’s list of blatant terrorist supporters.

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These aren’t the first arrests in the matter: the scandal erupted on January 19 last year, when the drivers of the first inspected truck were caught red-handed and discovered to be carrying intelligence members. Government arrests have been happening ever since.

Most recently, in May, the four prosecutors who ordered the search of the trucks were also arrested. They follow another 19 military arrests in April. All are now in prison awaiting trial.

Two more substantial arrests were made in February of this year and July last year: 17 and 11 police officers, respectively. This brings the figure up to 55 since the start of the arrests, according to Anatolia.