Turkish Gov’t tries to hush-up leaks about arms shipment to Syria with Internet ban

January 14, 2015

Twitter and Facebook as well as many other websites face closure after anonymous accounts published new revelations about a case involving illegal arms shipments by Turkish spy agency to opposition groups in Syria, including al-Qaeda.
Documents were leaked on Twitter on Monday night by an anonymous Twitter user ‘LazepeM' who claimed that the information came from General Staff and Gendarmerie investigations into the incident in which three Syria-bound trucks operated by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) were halted in Turkey's southern province Adana's Ceyhan district province on Jan.19, 2014.

A Turkish court ordered the closure of all websites which published the proceedings, including social media networks Facebook and Twitter. However, media reports said, since Twitter has already suspended access to the account ‘LazepeM' from Turkey, the ban may not be applied on Twitter globally.

Reports suggested that Turkish authorities are now waiting for the websites in question to delete content related to the proceedings. They will reportedly be closed down if they refuse to delete the content in question.

On Wednesday, Adana Fifth Criminal Court of Peace issued a blanket gag order on the coverage of the investigation into armed trucks through print, visual and Internet media. It followed an earlier court decision; before the Adana 7th High Criminal Court imposed a confidentiality order during the trial of 13 gendarmes on the grounds that there would be discussion of confidential information and documents during the trial. A media coverage ban was also imposed on the trial in May of last year.

Turkey is no stranger to bans on Twitter. Access to Twitter in Turkey was blocked on March 20 of last year, which came as a shock to both the Turkish public and the international community. The social networking website remained blocked for two weeks after then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's speech at a party rally held in Bursa. In his remarks, Erdoğan threatened that he was going to "root out" social media and shut down Twitter, as he considered it a danger because of the online circulation of leaked phone call recordings allegedly implicating him and his ministers in instances of corruption.

After his remarks, Turkish courts blocked access to Twitter, just a little over a week before March 30 local elections. The ban drew a huge backlash in Turkey and from the world, as it was widely thought to be part of efforts to block the sharing of wiretapped phone recordings that apparently reveal some Justice and Development Party (AK Party) officials' hand in instances of bribery.

The ban was lifted by a ruling of the Constitutional Court early in April.

Erdoğan personally authorized arms shipment

The leaked military documents showed that the arms transport by three trucks was personally authorized by then prime minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

According to one document, then Adana Governor Hüseyin Avni Coş rushed to the scene when prosecutor Aziz Takcı ordered gendarmerie units to search and seize the three trucks, which were full of arms and ammunitions. The governor was quoted saying, “the trucks were moving under the orders of the Prime Minister [Erdoğan] and he would never allow any interference into these trucks, even if that costs him his life.”

Governor Coş also said Erdoğan told him that the government would push a new law through Parliament that would allow MİT to carry arms legally. Shortly after the raids on the trucks, the government-endorsed bill cleared Parliament, granting MİT staff broader immunities from legal prosecution and allowed clandestine activities to be conducted by the agency.

Another document indicated that Adana police chief Cengiz Zeybekçi, under orders from the governor, also came to the scene with more than 400 riot police and interfered into the work of Gendarmerie units who were conducting the search of the trucks under the order of the local prosecutor who was at the scene.

Back then, Erdoğan described the search of the trucks as "treason" and claimed that they were only transporting humanitarian aid to Turkmens in Syria. He also said that Syria-bound weapons did not originate from Turkey.

The truck incident in Adana province resulted in an investigation, and Erdoğan publicly lashed out at a court that released the detained gendarmes who participated in the raid of the trucks. Prosecutors who ordered the interception of the trucks were later removed from their posts and, on several occasions, appointed to less influential positions -- a frequently employed tactic by Ankara to force bureaucrats to resign.

According to Turkish law, it is illegal to export arms to Syria, regardless of the recipient of the weaponry. Erdoğan has been an ardent supporter of rebels fighting to oust Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad, and media reports frequently claim that the Turkish border has been used to transfer arms to the Syrian rebels.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroglu stated at the time of the incident that engaging in arms trafficking is not part of the MİT's duties. “When we look at the law on MIT, the organization has no authority to conduct operational activities. This organization only collects intelligence, assesses it and presents it to the prime minister. That is it. The government of the Turkish Republic has been forced into an illegal practice. Who will be held accountable for this tomorrow?”

Military concluded arms destined for al-Qaeda

The leaked documents on social media also revealed that the military believed the cargo was destined for al-Qaeda in Syria following an intelligence tip it received in advance.

The contents of the cargo, as listed by the military officers who searched the trucks, showed heavy weaponry such as mortars and metal casings were part of the cargo, according to leaked documents.

Prosecutor Tak had the whole search recorded on video and listed a truck driver named Muatafa Yanıklıoğlu as a witness on the scene in his report. The list included some two dozen mortars 200cm long and 150mm diameter, metal mortar casings in smaller sizes, around 10 to 15 wooden boxes that included 24 units of weaponry mechanisms that fire explosive projectiles in each box, around 30 boxes of 60mm mortar shells, and five or six bags of anti-aircraft ammunition.

Another document details the testimony of a truck driver identified as Murat Kışlakçı who said the transportation of arms was a “state matter.” The driver said he had driven similar trucks that carried arms before and admitted that he knew the cargo belonged to the MİT. “We drove comfortably because it was state business. For the first time, we unloaded cargo from a foreign plane in Ankara and we were present for the first time when they were loading that cargo [into the trucks]”.

The driver said the cargo was unloaded from a plane that landed at Anakara Esenboğa airport on Jan.19, 2013 at 2.30 a.m. He said they used to deliver similar cargo load to Reyhanlı, a town near Syrian border, to MİT members. From there, the trucks were driven across the border.

One document records the sequence of events when gendarmerie tried to have trucks brought to the Seyhan gendarmerie compound in Adana. When trucks were ordered to go to the compound, an Audi brand vehicle that had been following the trucks and that belonged to MİT pulled in front of the trucks, preventing them from moving forward.

Gendarmerie units also had a quarrel with members of MİT who were passengers in the trucks, sitting next to the drivers. According to the field report, a passenger in one of the trucks refused to come out from the vehicle, declined to present his ID, and slammed the door of the truck on the hand of a lieutenant who was trying to remove him from the truck.

According to documents, the General Staff military prosecutor's office concluded there was no reason to prosecute the gendarmerie units who had halted and searched the trucks. The prosecutor's office had dropped the investigation that was launched into these military personnel under charges of “obtaining confidential state documents for the purpose of spying” and “passing those documents to third parties.” The prosecutor noted the contents of the cargo and the trucks were later delivered to the MİT's regional headquarters in Adana.

Gov't tried to hush-up investigation

The military documents corroborated an account given by the accused prosecutors who ordered the search and seizure of trucks in Adana. A report drafted by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors' (HSYK) investigators, last year revealed how Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ and his undersecretary both directly intervened in a judicial investigation in a violation of strict rules prohibiting government officials from influencing ongoing investigations.

In a telephone conversation with Adana Chief Public Prosecutor Süleyman Bağrıyanık, Undersecretary Kenan İpek asked the chief prosecutor to halt the searches of the trucks, saying that the trucks were under the control of MİT. In his deposition to HSYK inspectors, Bağrıyanık said İpek had asked him to order Prosecutor Özcan Şişman -- who was dispatched to the town of Kırıkhan, where the trucks were stopped by the military -- to halt the search. The undersecretary also threatened prosecutors with negative consequences if they did not comply with what he had asked of them.

At one point during the conversation, İpek also handed the phone over to Justice Minister Bozdağ to speak with prosecutors as well. Bozdağ also reportedly raised the same arguments, offering assurances that the trucks were not carrying any weapons.

Stressing that he was in the company of Interior Minister Efkan Ala and MİT head Hakan Fidan, Bozdağ said both had told him that the trucks had no weapons in their cargo. Bozdağ asked Bağrıyanık to remove Prosecutor Şimşek from the assignment immediately.

Bagrıyanık was reassigned to Antalya province as deputy chief prosecutor and later demoted to public prosecutor.

The HSYK report also included records of a conversation between Şişman and members of MİT on the scene. Şişman told intelligence officials to identify themselves with their official identification and promised to let them go afterwards. He reiterated that intelligence law provides immunity only to MİT staff, but does not prevent evidence from being collected at a possible crime scene.

“We are investigating to determine whether a crime has been committed. We will execute the search warrant. MİT members cannot undertake the task of transporting arms. Carrying [illegal] arms cannot be considered a ‘state secret',” Şişman explained to members of intelligence detained by the military at the scene.

Aziz Takcı, the lead prosecutor who ordered the search of Syria-bound trucks, was also stripped of extraordinary powers to conduct investigations granted under Turkey's anti-terrorism laws immediately after the incident.

The Turkish government is worried the leaks of confidential documents and the testimonies of military officers in the investigation will damage Turkey's international reputation. It may very well create headaches for the government, already under growing criticism for allegedly allowing arms and fighters to go into Syria, if these documents and case file make its way to the international fora. 

SOURCE | http://todayszaman.com/national_govt-tries-to-hush-up-leaks-about-arms-shipment-to-syria-with-internet-ban_369820.html
(UPDATE | Erdogan's Turkish government shutdown "Todays Zaman" newspaper, hence the link above, and some of the links below are no longer leading to the original article/s)

Also See |

> 'Documents: Cooperation between the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) and Al-Qaeda'                       https://anoninsiders.net/mit-documents-2867/

> 'Turkey may face trouble in future due to trucks allegedly carrying weapons to Syria' http://www.todayszaman.com/national_turkey-may-face-trouble-in-future-due-to-trucks-allegedly-carrying-weapons-to-syria_337471.html

> 'Turkish governor blocks police search on Syria-bound truck reportedly carrying weapons'

> 'Turkish gendarmerie stops seven Syria-bound trucks, finds weapons and ammunition'

> 'Police officers removed after stopping truck allegedly carrying weapons to Syria'


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