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4 Nov, 2013 20:29

Turkish patrol seizes over a ton of chemicals from smugglers at Syria border

Turkish patrol seizes over a ton of chemicals from smugglers at Syria border

Turkish border guards seized three vehicles loaded with over 1,000 kg of chemicals as they tried to illegally cross the border into Syria. One of the smugglers was arrested, while others managed to escape.

The Turkish General Staff reported that the chemicals were seized after a convoy of three vehicles refused to stop and attempted to illegally cross the border near the southeastern Turkish town of Reyhanli on Saturday.

Paramilitary police were ordered to shoot out the tires of the vehicles to stop them. As the tires caught on fire, the three drivers jumped out and fled in the direction of Syria. One of them was arrested.

The vehicles contained 20 bags of sulphur, weighing about 50 kg each, and eight sealed barrels. Their contents were not immediately known.

Republican People's Party (CHP) chairman Faruk Logoglu said in a statement on Monday that the barrels are suspected to contain chemical material. “Traffic was from Turkey to Syria,” he added.

The arrested suspect’s nationality has not been made public. He was taken into custody after interrogation by the Reyhanli district gendarmerie headquarters and is to be sent to the prosecutor’s office.

Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense (CBRN) units from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency have started examining the seized material, Logoglu’s statement said.

The Republican People's Party has also criticized the release of a primary suspect in a similar case, saying that closing the investigation would be “a shame for Turkey,” Hurriyet newspaper reported, citing CHP’s deputy.

In May 2013, Turkish police seized a group of people after being informed that Syrian rebel groups were looking to obtain materials that could be used to produce chemical weapons.

A two -kilogram cylinder with what initially was suggested to be sarin gas was seized while searching the homes of Syrian militants from the Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra Front following their detention.

Free Syrian Army fighters fire their weapons as they take cover during clashes with what activists say are government forces, in the village of Aziza, in the southern countryside of Aleppo September 25, 2013.(Reuters / Hamid Khatib)

Some of the suspects accused of establishing a connection with a network in Turkey to convey chemical materials were released after lab tests proved that the seized chemicals were not sarin gas.

The alleged use of sarin - considered one of the world’s most dangerous chemical warfare agents - in a Damascus suburb on August 21 provoked an international outcry which nearly led to a US military strike against the Syrian regime, as Western countries assumed it was the Assad government who used the chemical weapons.

However, while a UN investigation proved that sarin was used near Damascus, it did not say who was behind the attack. At the same time, Russia also analyzed samples taken in the Syrian town of Aleppo, where chemical weapons were allegedly used in March. Experts concluded that rebels - not the army - were behind the Aleppo sarin attack.

In September, Syria agreed to comply with Moscow’s offer to put its chemical weapons under international control for subsequent destruction, in order to avert a possible military strike. Damascus declared the possession of 1,300 tons of chemicals and precursors needed for chemical weapons production, as well as over 1,200 empty chemical munitions.

On Thursday, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said that Syria's entire declared stock of chemical weapons has been placed under seal.

The organization acknowledged that Damascus has complied with the watchdog’s requirement, adopted on September 27, for the complete elimination of chemical weapons and production units in Syria before November 1.

The process of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons stocks has a target finish date of mid-2014.