Turkey bans sale of ammonium nitrate fertilizers after terror attack spike

© Akhtar Soomro
Turkey has suspended sales of ammonium nitrate-based fertilizers frequently used by terrorists to produce homemade explosive devices. The measure comes in the wake of latest deadly blasts targeting police and security forces across the country.

“As of yesterday, Turkey has banned the sale of fertilizers which could be used as explosives,” Agriculture Minister Faruk Celik said in press release. “So all sales of the fertilizer nitrate can no longer be carried out in Turkey.”

The decision to ban the sales of fertilizer until further notice follows a meeting of security chiefs Wednesday which took place in the wake of recent terrorist attacks that involved improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and which Ankara pinned on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Ammonium nitrate, a substance more typically used in agriculture, has become an object of terror. The chemical compound can be a powerful explosive when mixed with fuel. Ammonium nitrate accelerates the rate at which the fuel burns, producing a huge explosion.

Over the years and to this day, terrorists have used concrete blocks, tin boxes and pipes, often packing home-made bombs with deadly objects such as bolts and pellets. Terror groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) have championed the suicide explosives tactics.

The announcement on Thursday stipulated that the ban is essential, as extremists can easily obtain the chemical compound, because the existing controls and precautions fail to prevent terrorists from obtaining the fertilizer. Measures already in place include a ban on retail fertilizers with at least 28 percent ammonium nitrate and placement of tracking chips in random bags.

READ MORE: 3 killed, over 20 wounded by car bomb at police station, southeast Turkey 

Annually Turkey uses 5.5 million tons of fertilizer of which, according to the minister, some 1.5 million tonnes contain ammonium nitrate and can potentially be used in making explosives. Celik also added that Turkish authorities already went on to halt the sales of some 64,000 tons of fertilizers containing nitrate.

“There are about 9,700 dealers across the country and our ministry is already regularly inspecting them. We made an inventory of 64,000 tons of fertilizers so far and stopped their pending sales. We are assessing how it would impact agriculture and alternative options for fertilizers with [ammonium] nitrate,” Celik said.

While Turkey is worried about domestic terrorism, Russia has repeatedly voiced concern that Turkey is complicit in supplying extremists with illegal arms and supplies of military hardware in Syria and Iraq, including fertilizers that can be used to make bombs.

In April, Russia's envoy to the UN told the Security Council that terrorist groups operating in Syria had received explosive materials worth $1.9 million from Turkey last year.

Total supplies to terrorists through Turkey were as follows in 2015: 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate [worth approximately US$788,700]; 456 tons of potassium nitrate [$468,700]; 75 tons of aluminum powder [$496,500]; sodium nitrate [$19,400]; glycerin [$102,500]; and nitric acid [$34,000],” Vitaly Churkin stated.

In late May, the Ambassador also named a list of Turkish companies implicated in such trade, especially noting a sevenfold export increase from Turkey to Syria of ammonium nitrate.