Tens of thousands of pounds of fertiliser that could be turned into deadly explosives have been regularly flowing over the border from Turkey into ISIS-controlled sections of Syria, Ben Hubbard and Karam Shoumali report for The New York Times.
“It is not for farming. It is for bombs,” Mehmet Ayhan, an Akcakale politician told the Times. “As long as the Turkish people benefit from this — regardless of where it goes on the other side — it is a good thing.”
Large wooden carts laden with tens of thousands of pounds of ammonium nitrate have been observed numerous times crossing the border from the Turkish town of Akcakale into ISIS controlled Tel Abyad, only to return later empty.
“Four times on two recent days, reporters for The New York Times saw large wooden carts loaded with fertiliser enter the crossing and come back empty a short time later. The workers then refilled their carts from a pile of sacks as large as a semi-truck in a nearby lot,” the Times notes.
Ammonium nitrate is a fairly common and effective fertiliser that can also function as an extremely powerful explosive if mixed with fuel. The fertiliser was used by Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City Bombing, and the sale of the compound is regulated by the US internally.
Ayhan’s comments reflect the overall difficulties of tackling smuggling in Turkey. Ankara has banned trade and support for ISIS, yet the majority of Turks living along the border region depend upon cross-border trade for their livelihood. This need for trade benefits whoever controls adjacent territory to the Turkish border.
Over the course of the Syrian war, Turkey’s border policy has facilitated the rise of ISIS along Turkey’s southern border as Ankara focused on toppling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
In recent months, Ankara has taken additional steps to close its porous border with its southern neighbour, but the actions came as too little too late to counteract the rise of jihadists. And now Turkey faces danger when cracking down on the racket that ISIS has built.
Turkey “inadvertently created a mechanism that can yield blowback for them that could be extremely painful,” Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research at the Foundation of Defence of Democracy, told Business Insider in November.
“You have a lot of people now that are invested in the business of extremism in Turkey,” Schanzer added. “If you start to challenge that, it raises significant questions of whether” those benefiting will allow a crackdown to take place without repercussions on Turkish soil.
Ankara has refused to allow the US-led anti-ISIS coalition to launch military strikes from Turkish soil, although there are ongoing discussions to allow US drones to operate out of Incirlik air base close to the border with Syria. Turkey and the US have also begun to cooperate on attempts to train moderate Syrian rebels.
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