Turkey-Syria border under scrutiny

A recent truck stocked with components to produce explosives was stopped after an anonymous tip.

al-monitor An armored Turkish military vehicle guards the border between Turkey and Syria near Reyhanli, Sept. 8, 2013 Photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas.

Topics covered

weapons smuggling, turkey, syria, al-qaeda

Nov 12, 2013

In an article I wrote on Oct. 24, I issued a blunt warning: "'Out of the box' operations by the National Intelligence Organization [MIT] under Hakan Fidan will isolate Turkey. It may even place Turkey among countries supporting terror."

Over the last few days, it is as if someone has been exposing the ammunition and weapons sent to Syria via Turkey. First a semi-laden with mortar rounds bound for Syria was stopped at Adana because of an anonymous tip-off that it was carrying narcotics. In it, however, were 935 mortar rounds and 10 mortar tubes.

Then, the Greek Coast Guard discovered 20,000 Kalashnikov rifles in a ship near Kardak in the Aegean Sea. The ship’s captain and its three-man crew were Turks. According to the captain they were heading to Iskenderun, but in the system it was recorded as Libya and Syria. Russian media claims the ship had spent five days in Istanbul, but Turkish sources say the ship did not stop over at Istanbul.

All these reports reinforce perceptions in world opinion that Turkey is sending weapons to al-Qaeda elements fighting in Syria. This has been so much so that Star, the closest newspaper to the government and MIT, reported it as a “seizure of al-Qaeda ammunition.” This kind of news makes Turkey appear to be a country supporting al-Qaeda terror.

Regarding the ammunition discovery, Prime Minister Erdogan said, “Syrian groups brought the molds for the ammunition manufacturing to Adana and Konya. They paid for them. The seizure of the ammunition shows Turkey’s sensitivity to the issue.”

This declaration itself, however, is problematic. As reported by the pro-government newspaper, al-Qaeda manufactures mortar ammunition in Konya and Adana and ships them to Syria. That load was discovered because of a tip on narcotics. Who knows, perhaps they would not have been found if the tip had been about weapons. Western observers reading the prime minister’s explanation are likely to think: “Al-Qaeda is manufacturing weapons in Turkey but Turkish intelligence is totally unaware. If there had been no tip-off about narcotics — which obviously came from another intelligence service — that truckload of ammunition would have gone to Syria. Who knows how many truckloads of ammunition have already passed to Syria via Turkey?”

Under these conditions, the identity of Haitam Topalca, detained in Adana as the man transferring the ammunition, is significant.

Who is Haitam Topalca?

According to my queries in Hatay, Haitam Topalca is a Syrian national Turkmen. He is involved in smuggling between Yayladag and Syria. According to a study by the think tank Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), Haitam Topalca is the leader of a Turkmen unit called Al-Huwwa Billa that operates in Syria’s Kasab-Beit Milk area.

More interesting still is that Yusuf Nazik and Mehmet Gezer, who were being sought as suspects in Reyhanli car bomb attack, mentioned Topalca in a statement immediately after the Reyhanli bombing: “Topalca is a Syrian Turkmen who is supporting jihadists in Syria. He is the one who tricked us.” They went on to say: “It could be Haitam Topalca who set us up. We used to cooperate with Topalca from time to time to move stuff from Reyhanli. He is a veteran smuggler. He can cross the border both at Reyhanli and at Yayladag. We can’t even go near Reyhanli. Jihadists control those areas. They would cut us up alive if they were to see us. He is definitely involved in this affair.”

According to these suspects, Topalca, whose name was in newspapers months before the seizure of ammunition in Adana, was not even called in as a witness to the Reyhanli car bomb. If a man like him can freely have mortar ammunition manufactured in Adana and Konya and then ship them to Syria — where he is identified as the leader of a Turkmen organization — we are justified in thinking there is an intelligence outfit behind him. Then the question is: Who is Topalca? Who is behind him? Was he shipping that mortar ammunition to al-Qaeda?

A more important question is: Why is the Turkish media not following up on the story of mortar ammunition? How come after first-page headline coverage on the first day, they are all suddenly quiet?


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