Today Zaman, Ankara, June 11, 2015
Turkish intelligence is facilitating a terrorist organization by allowing militants and weapons safe passage through Turkey into Syria, according to a Turkish daily.
The National Intelligence Organization (MIT) has been helping members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) cross the border into Syria according to footage obtained by the Cumhuriyet daily, which shows bus drivers admitting that they transferred “heavily bearded people, who looked scruffy” to the border.
According to the report on Thursday, the militants and cargo were collected from the Atme camp in Syria, bearing the black flag of ISIL, near the Reyhanlı district in Turkey’s southern Hatay province. They were then transported via Turkey’s southeastern border and dropped off at the border town of Akçakale in Şanlıurfa province, where the militants and cargo re-entered Syria after passing through Turkish territory. According to Cumhuriyet, ISIL militants were unable to travel safely through Syrian territory near Kobani — a predominantly Kurdish town near Syria’s border with Turkey — as the city and surrounding area is held and defended by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Driver explains how they took militants from Reyhanlı to Akçakale
In the video one of the drivers — remaining anonymous for security reasons — points to the point of entry into Syria from Hatay, saying: “That is where we crossed the border, following the escorts. We waited in a cabin. We had already shut of all the lights in the vehicles. The individual came from over there, from within the darkness. They opened the trunks of the vehicles and starting unloading the weapons and ammunition. ”
The driver continued: “They didn’t allow us to leave the vehicle [once we had arrived at Akçakale]. One of them [militants] was waiting by our side. Another vehicle came and parked behind my coach and they started moving the cargo from my vehicle [into the other one]. There were 46 [militants] in my coach, and I learned later on that there were 27 in the other bus. They were bearded men, scruffy looking.”
Also stating that all the passengers were of Arab ethnicity, one of the drivers said the militants had nothing in their hands when they had entered the coaches. “They put all of their belonging in the trunk. They were all bearded. They didn’t allow us to leave the vehicle, or turn on the lights. We weren’t even allowed to go out for a cigarette. They said ‘Smoke in the car.’ We then took the individuals to Akçakale.”
According to the report the drivers said they “were not in the wrong” and justified their involvement in the transportation of the militants by claiming that they were “doing their duty to the state.”
Drivers: Coaches were accompanied by MİT agents
The drivers’ statements came after an anonymous tip prompted the Adana Narcotics Bureau to conduct an operation against two coaches in Adana’s İncirlik district in January. The police officers were not able to find any narcotics in the vehicles. However they did find boxes of ammunition wrapped up in blankets in their trunks.
The coaches were then pulled into the Adana Special Operations Bureau’s garage for closer inspection. The drivers, Şahin Güvenmez and Esat Lütfi Er, were quickly detained. When the drivers were questioned regarding the cargo, they told police that the coaches had been rented by MİT and that they had been used to transport militants and cargo to the border. They suggested that the bullets found in the trunk may have been forgotten to be unloaded.
One of the two drivers then explained that the coaches had been accompanied by MİT agents during the trip and that the passengers had told them not to stop the coaches unless it was for something urgent.
Driver: We crossed the border with the MİT agents
One of the drivers told investigators that they had entered Syria from the left border gate in Akçakale and after passing into Syria drove only 15-20 meters before MİT operatives came and oversaw the unloading of the coaches by the militants they had transported.
“Twenty or so civilians came. I don’t know who they are. MİT or military came and unloaded the cargo. Then they [civilians] said, ‘Our job is done,’” the driver explained.
Report comes at a time when US cranking up pressure on Turkey
The report comes at a time when US President Barack Obama has openly criticized Turkish authorities for the first time for failing to ramp up Ankara’s capacity to prevent foreign fighters from crossing the Turkish-Syria border.
Washington’s unhappiness with Turkey’s reluctance to contribute to the US-led campaign against ISIL has been very well known in political circles, but until recently US authorities had refrained from using highly critical remarks against the Turkish government while the negotiations regarding Turkey’s possible contribution had been ongoing.
Turkey has an agreement with Washington to train militias to fight against ISIL.
Trucks belonging to MİT stopped on suspicion of carrying weapons in 2014
In a front page story published in May, Cumhuriyet produced images from a video in the investigation file proving that the MİT trucks that were stopped in an investigation in January 2014 were carrying weapons, contradicting the government’s claim that they were carrying humanitarian aid to Turkmens in Syria.
Cumhuriyet published photos showing steel containers filled with mortar shells and other ammunition underneath boxes of medicine. The daily also published a video on its online news portal showing the containers on trucks being opened and searched by gendarmes on the same day.
Speaking in a live broadcast on the Habertürk news station on May 31, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the timing of the publication about the trucks was “telling.” The prime minister accused those involved in the interception of the trucks of espionage and maintained that the report was published shortly before the upcoming general election in order to create the impression that the AK Party is supporting terrorist groups in Syria.
Turkey denies report of sending weapons, fighters to ISIL
Ankara has dismissed claims that Turkey’s intelligence service transferred arms and fighters to ISIL calling the allegations “a part of the smear campaign” against Turkey and “slander.”
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç answered questions about the Cumhuriyet report, stating that Turkey’s stance is quite clear: “This dark organization is [first and] foremost a security threat for Turkey. The fight against this threat will continue with determination. The allegation that Turkey aids DAEŞ (ISIL) is part of a smear campaign [against Turkey] and is slander.”
Turkey has long faced criticism from the West for allegedly turning a blind eye to foreign fighters crossing into Syria and Iraq from Turkish territory in order to join up with ISIL. Turkey has denied these allegations, saying that the Western countries have a responsibility to flag potential foreign fighters in their own countries and share the information with Turkey.
Figures of Syrian civil war
A recent report prepared by the Freedom Association (Özgür-Der) and Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH), involving four human rights organizations, reveals the gravity of the humanitarian catastrophe of the Syrian civil war which started at the end of 2011 as the Arab Spring spread from North Africa into the Middle East.
The report indicates that 210,000-300,000 people have died fighting in the war and another 12,751 people have been tortured to death. The number of people held in Syrian prisons is 252,000, of which 6,500 are women. The number of missing persons stands at 90,000. Currently, 7.5 million Syrians live outside Syria as a direct result of the war. Some 11,238 people have been affected by chemical weapons. More than 3 million houses, 224 hospitals, more than 3,000 schools and 1,400 mosques have been bombed and destroyed. At the moment, as many as 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and 2 million children have no access to aid because of a blockade on the war-torn nation.