ANKARA (TODAY’S ZAMAN)—Two generals and a retired colonel have been arrested on charges of espionage and terrorism for their role in the interception of trucks carrying arms to Syria in 2014.
Ankara gendarmerie regional commander Major General Ibrahim Aydin, former Adana gendarmerie regional commander Brigade General Hamza Celepoglu and former Gendarmerie Criminal Laboratory head retired Colonel Burhanettin Cihangiroglu were detained last Saturday and referred to an Istanbul court for arrest on Sunday. The Istanbul Second Criminal Court of Peace ruled for the arrest pending trial for Aydin, Celepoglu and Cihangiroglu shortly after midnight on Monday.
Aydin and Cihangiroglu were arrested on charges of “obtaining confidential information for purposes of political or military espionage; disclosing confidential information pertaining to state security for espionage purposes; attempting to destroy or prevent the government of the Republic of Turkey from functioning; and founding or leading an armed terrorist organization.” Celepoglu was arrested on charges of “attempting to destroy or prevent the government of the Republic of Turkey from functioning and founding or leading an armed terrorist organization.”
The arrest came as part of a court case into the prosecutors and security personnel who conducted searches on trucks en route to Syria after receiving a tip that they were transporting weapons. It emerged during the search that the trucks belonged to the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
The first stop-and-search took place in the Hatay province on January 1, 2014. Another anonymous tip led to three more trucks being intercepted in Turkey’s southern province of Adana on January 19, 2014.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was prime minister when the search of the trucks became public, said on a TV program at the time that they were carrying aid to Turkmens in Syria. He was particularly angry with the prosecutor for having demanded the search of the trucks to be recorded on video and described the search as “treason.”
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was foreign minister at the time, asserted that the cargo was humanitarian aid destined for embattled Syrian Turkmens on the other side of the border. However, Syrian Turkmen Assembly Vice Chairman Hussein al-Abdullah said in January 2014 that no trucks carrying aid had arrived from Turkey.
On November 24, Erdogan seemingly validated claims that the Turkish government was sending weapon-filled trucks to radical groups in Syria by sarcastically asking “So what if the MIT trucks were filled with weapons?” Speaking to a room full of teachers gathered for Teachers’ Day, Erdogan said: “You know about the treason regarding the MIT trucks, don’t you? So what if there were weapons in them? I believe that our people will not forgive those who sabotaged this support.”
Two journalists from the Cumhuriyet daily—editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara representative Erdem Gul—were arrested last week on similar charges after publishing footage that showed the trucks were carrying guns, contrary to earlier government claims that they were transporting humanitarian aid.
Erdogan had publicly vowed that Dundar would “pay a heavy price” for his reporting. He then personally sued Dundar and is demanding a life sentence, an aggravated life sentence and an additional 42-year term of imprisonment on charges of various crimes ranging from espionage to attempting to topple the government and exposing secret information.
An indictment that was approved by the Tarsus High Criminal Court in July seeks a life sentence for Adana Chief Public Prosecutor Suleyman Bagriyanik, former Adana Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Ahmet Karaca and Adana Prosecutors Aziz Takci and Ozcan Sisman, as well as gendarmerie commander Colonel Ozkan Cokay, all of whom were involved in the investigation. A life sentence is sought for the five defendants.
The Supreme Court of Appeals is hearing the case of the suspects because it is the only body that can try judges and prosecutors in Turkey.
According to a report in the online news portal Al-Jazeera Turk, the two generals were arrested based on the testimony of an anonymous witness given the pseudonym Alparsan and who is a witness in the case into the Iran-backed spy ring Tawhid Salam.
In his statement to the court regarding Tawhid Salam, Alparslan said the generals had convened a meeting before the trucks were inspected and that they had conspired to stop the trucks, saying at the meeting that they could “not turn a blind eye to the transport of weapons to terrorist groups within Syria.”
The generals had earlier told the court that they did not know who the trucks belonged to or what they were carrying.
Aydin and Cihangiroglu were placed on the indictment list for the Tawhid Salam investigation and were made suspects in the MIT trucks case based on statements by Alparslan.