An intercepted arms shipment to jihadist groups including al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters in Syria by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan apparently involved the Bulgarian government, a new document provided to me by a confidential source indicates.
The document details the forensic examination of samples taken from a cache of weapons found in the trailers of intercepted freight trucks in Turkey’s southern province of Adana near the Syrian border. One truck, escorted by four intelligence officers from Turkey’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), under personal orders from Erdoğan in violation of several articles of Turkish criminal and counterterrorism law, was halted and searched on Jan. 19, 2014 by prosecutors and local law enforcement officials. An investigation was launched when an anonymous tip which claimed that a Syrian-bound heavy arms shipment was on its way to a border province was received by the gendarmerie hotline.
When the scandal erupted, with national media covering it as breaking news, the Erdoğan government hastily moved to hush up the incident, sacking prosecutors, police chiefs and military officers who were involved in exposing the illegal arms shipment. Erdoğan initially denied the cargo was arms and instead claimed it was humanitarian aid. He later changed the story line, stating that it was bound for Turkmen brethren in Syria, which was later refuted by Turkmen leaders. The Erdoğan government even rushed an amendment to an intelligence bill in parliament to bestow new powers on the intelligence agency including transporting arms and staging cross-border operations at the government’s order. His partisan court issued a gag order on the media, banning coverage of the investigation into the incident.
It was clear that Erdoğan panicked over the revelations and scrambled to suppress any damaging information. We later learned from court papers that his government has sent some 2,000 trucks transporting arms to Syria’s rebels and jihadists in order to topple the Bashar al-Assad government and replace it with a puppet Islamist proxy regime. However, the prosecutors had managed to get samples from the containers loaded one of the trucks contracted by the intelligence agency and shipped them to a forensic lab to identify the arms and trace their origin.
The Adana Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched criminal procedures under case No. 2014/02 and even filed criminal motions against then-Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, his undersecretary Kenan İpek and the local governor for attempting to interfere in a judicial investigation. The Turkish Constitution is quite clear in the separation of the executive and judicial branches, and the relevant code states that nobody can dictate terms to members of the judiciary or attempt to influence legal proceedings. Yet, Erdoğan suspended the rule of law and purged and jailed independent judges and prosecutors.
Thanks to a search and seizure warrant by veteran counterterrorism prosecutor Aziz Takçı, we now know the contents of the cargo. He issued an order asking law enforcement to execute the warrant on four vehicles bearing license plate numbers 06 M 9903 (tractor) and 06 FC 9193 (trailer); 06 DY 0393 (tractor) and 06 DZ 2798 (trailer); 06 EU 2115 (tractor) and 06 DV 1385 (trailer); and 31 VU 6131 (Audi A3 escort car). Each tractor-trailer had one intelligence officer in the passenger seat with the exception of the truck in the middle of the convoy. Another two intelligence officers were in the escort car, leading the convoy. Each trailer had two large steel containers full of heavy arms.
When a K-9 dog sounded the alarm over the cargo in the Volvo truck with license plate 06 M 9903, at the order of prosecutor the military officers opened one of the containers and found some 90 to 100 mortar shells. Next to the shells were boxes with Arabic script on them. Murat Kışlakçı, a 33-year-old driver and resident of Ankara who was driving the Volvo, told gendarmes on the scene that he and other drivers picked up their loads at an airport in Turkey’s capital of Ankara. The driver also testified that the passengers were all MIT agents although they refused to provide their IDs. In the meantime, on a separate order, prosecutor Takçı also asked the gendarmerie to get samples of the arms and conduct a forensic examination on them.
The next day, gendarmerie provincial commander Özkan Çokay informed the prosecutor’s office that the forensic examination was complete and provided a copy of the findings on the intercepted arms. The samples from the container included a mortar shell for a tank or artillery, two fuses and anti-aircraft artillery. The mortar was 103 centimeters long and 100 millimeters in diameter and letters on the shell body read FULL CHARGE-VOF-412 100 MM G-TG, D10-2C.BS-3 NDT-3 18/1 18/75((10)), 20-75-((11) FD. The projectile included the letters ((11)) 20-75-100 N TNT OF 412. The fuses were each 10 centimeters long and three centimeters in diameter with the letters 8-429 and 2 B-429. The anti-aircraft projectile was 14.5 centimeters long and bore the letters 81 VA 188.
In the forensic report numbered 2014/67, the examiners concluded that the 100 millimeter mortar shell was manufactured in Bulgaria as part of high-explosive military grade ammunition. They also said the fuses were manufactured in Bulgaria for OG-7 anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launchers. They could not trace the origin of the anti-aircraft projectile. The report was signed by explosives demolition experts 1st Sgt. Celalettin Bardakçı and Master Sgt. Nihat Yılan.
It was interesting to learn about the Bulgarian connection to Erdoğan’s plans for a neighboring country in Turkey’s south. It is not a smoking gun and does not provide conclusive evidence that the Bulgarian government willingly and knowingly aided and abetted Erdoğan government ambitions in the Middle East. Nevertheless, it would be hard to imagine that such weaponry would be transported out of Bulgaria, if the shipment originated from there, without the knowledge and approval of the Bulgarian government. Perhaps this might help explain why Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has cozied up to Erdoğan and even handed over asylum-seeking critics and opponents of the Turkish government in what was described as the unlawful and clandestine pushback of refugees into Turkey.