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Turkish police intercept massive arms shipments to Middle East

Thursday, September 05, 2013

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The caches of weapons included at least 30,000 guns and 10,000 rifles and were bound for Iran, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen.

Turkish police have stormed an illegal arms manufacturing factory in the central Anatolian province of Konya, seizing 4,500 guns and detaining two dozen suspects believed to be involved in the production and shipment of the arms to Middle Eastern countries.

Last fall, Yemeni authorities confiscated boxes of ammunition originating from Turkey in the southern Yemeni city of Aden. Officials seized 3,000 pistols found in biscuit boxes inside a container that came from Turkey.

Turkey then said it is out of the question to authorize arms exports to a region with high-level risk of conflict resulting in the deaths of more people. Turkish authorities launched an investigation after the incident in Aden and security forces soon spotted an illegal arms factory in the Beyşehir district of Konya, which was involved in the shipment of at least 35,000 guns to the Middle Eastern countries.

There was a similar incident in March 2011 when the customs authority of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seized arms bound for Yemen from Turkey by sea. It remains unclear who ordered the shipment.

Police identified Kadir T., 49, as the owner of the arms factory and had begun surveillance of him and the arms smuggling ring he had allegedly been coordinating since November of last year.

During the period of surveillance, the weapons manufactured in the factory were sent via cargo and export companies in private vehicles in 10 separate shipments hidden in biscuit boxes, electrical equipment and furniture. The arms originating from the factory in Beyşehir were sent to İstanbul, Hakkari, Şanlıurfa, Mersin, Adana, Balıkesir and Antalya provinces.

The caches of weapons included at least 30,000 guns and 10,000 rifles and were bound for Iran, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen. Turkish police recently intercepted a Syria-bound arms shipment in Şanlıurfa, a southern Turkish province on the Syrian border, before they reached the war zone across the frontier, where clashes have killed at least 110,000 people, mostly civilians.

Following a lengthy pursuit of the arms smugglers, police raided the arms factory in Beyşehir on Monday as well as addresses in İstanbul, Hakkarı, Şanlıurfa, Mersin, Adana, Balıkesir and Antalya. A total of 25 suspects were detained during the police operations, mostly in the neighborhood of Üzümlü in Beyşehir. The owner of the arms factory, who is also believed to be behind the shipments of arms caches, was also detained in Beyşehir. Police seized at least 4,500 illegally manufactured guns in the factory.

The suspects were taken to Beyşehir State Hospital and Konya Education and Research Hospital for health checks then transferred to the Konya Police Department for interrogation.

Turkey has been a haven of peace amid years of civil wars and sectarian discord in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and other nearby Middle Eastern countries but recent indications suggest that Turkey is slowly getting more involved in these conflicts. With the bloody civil war mounting in neighboring Syria along with ongoing violence in Iraq, Turkey has been negatively affected in the past few years, with several car bombs killing scores in border areas.

Media reports have indicated that Turkey is a major Gulf-financed arms shipment hub for Syrian opposition fighters as fighting escalates in the war-torn country. Syrian opposition officials recently told Reuters that 400 tons of arms had been sent into Syria from Turkey to boost insurgent capabilities against Syrian government forces.

The source said the Gulf-financed shipment, which crossed from the Turkish province of Hatay, was one of the single biggest to reach opposition brigades since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad turned violent over two years ago.

Turkish officials said they have no information about such a shipment.

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