Mehmet Aşkar, one of the 11 suspected members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) currently being tried by the niğde High Criminal court, has said that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) helped them smuggle arms to opposition groups in Syria during the early stages of the country’s civil war, a Turkish daily has reported.
According to a story published in the Cumhuriyet daily on Monday, Turkish authorities are trying to divert public attention from the case because the prosecutor’s dossier has details which reveal the involvement of MİT in arms smuggling.
The 11 suspects in the case include a Syrian Turkmen who is allegedly linked with the anti-regime Free Syrian Army (FSA) and radical groups such as ISIL and al-Qaeda affiliates. Haisam Toubaljeh, also known as Heysem Topalca and who is also a suspect in the Reyhanlı attack case, according to Hürriyet, is believed to have been involved in numerous cases of smuggling as well as a transfer of rocket warheads to Syria that was intercepted in November 2013 by security forces in the southern city of Adana.
Aşkar said in the dossier that he had given his vehicle to Topalca in 2011 in the Yayladağı district of Hatay province when Topalca told Aşkar that he was planning to bring arms from Syria to Turkey and then send them to rebel groups in Syria. Aşkar added that Topalca had told him that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had seized some towns in northern Syria, blocking the previous routes that the rebel groups had used to transfer arms.
Cumhuriyet reported that Aşkar was told by Topalca that the smuggling would not be a problem in Turkey because he had contacts. Aşkar, Topalca and certain other Turkmens then took the arms to a village near the Syrian border in Hatay province. When they reached the village, Turkish gendarmerie teams carrying a jammer device asked them why they were in a military zone. Aşkar quoted Topalca as saying that they had permission to be there. “Topalca and the gendarmes made some telephone calls that I couldn’t hear. Without any checks on my vehicle, which was loaded with arms, we were taken to the border with a military escort,” Aşkar said. He then added that his vehicle, along with another that had joined them on the way, was taken by people who crossed from the Syrian side to collect the vehicles. According to Aşkar, Topalca told him that there were 100 rifles belonging to NATO in the vehicle and that the smuggling had been conducted with the approval and support of MİT.
This is not the only time that MİT has been accused of smuggling arms to Syria. In another incident, on Jan. 19, 2014, gendarmes were ordered by a prosecutor to stop trucks near the Syrian border in Adana on the suspicion that they were carrying arms to opposition groups in Syria, including al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. The government, apparently infuriated, quickly retaliated, removing the prosecutor from his post and blocking further investigation.
In November 2013, Turkish gendarmes seized a total of 935 rocket warheads from a truck in Adana near the Syrian border. The warheads had been manufactured in Adana and Konya provinces and, it is alleged, were being delivered to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria.
Niğde court adjourns trial of ISIL suspects until March 5
The Niğde High Criminal Court has adjourned the trial of the 11 suspects, including the three suspects allegedly involved in an attack on Turkish security forces by ISIL in March of last year, after the first hearing held on Monday because no lawyers had been appointed to defend the suspects.
Judge Birol Küçük also asked for a reconsideration of the location of the trial due to security concerns. The Niğde Police Department warned the court that there was a risk of “provocation” if the trial were held in the province given that parliamentary elections, slated for June 7, are approaching.
Two security force members and one civilian were killed when the suspected ISIL members opened fire on a checkpoint manned by gendarmes and police officers in the Central Anatolian province of Niğde in March 2014. The three suspected ISIL attackers, Çendrim Ramadani, Benyamin Xu and Muhammad Zakiri, were arrested and put in an Ankara jail following the attack.
The police note to the court also stated that there were rumors of a prisoner swap between Turkey and ISIL and that a circulation of these rumors would be likely to result in increased public interest in the hearing. The authorities have refrained from responding to media reports that one of the three gunmen was released as part of an alleged swap with the extremist group under which as many as 180 captured militants were handed over to ISIL in mid-September in return for 49 people who were captured by the terrorist group in June from the Turkish Consulate General in Mosul.
The suspects, who attended the trial from Sincan Prison in Ankara via a video link, rejected the appointment of a lawyer, saying “God is our lawyer.” The prisoners stood behind the interpreters during the trial on Monday with their faces obscured and their voices were not clear, increasing the suspicions that a swap had taken place.
February 09, 2015, Monday/ 14:08:23/ TODAY’S ZAMAN / ISTANBUL
© Feza Gazetecilik A.Ş. 2007