Four killed in Turkey campaign clash ahead of polls

File photo showing a member of police special forces walks during a security operation in Diyarbakir, Turkey, November 3, 2017. (Reuters)
Updated 15 June 2018

Four killed in Turkey campaign clash ahead of polls

ISTANBUL, Turkey: Four people were killed in southern Turkey Thursday in clashes that erupted when a lawmaker from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party was campaigning in a mainly Kurdish town near Syria, 10 days ahead of tightly-contested polls.
Reports said those killed were shot dead in chaotic fighting at Suruc in the Sanliurfa region, although rival sides gave starkly contrasting versions of events.
The incident added to tensions ahead of the June 24 elections, where Erdogan will seek a second term as president and also a thumping majority in parliament.
The Sanliurfa governor’s office said a fight erupted between two groups during the visit by MP Ibrahim Halil Yildiz to small businesses in the center of Suruc.
It said three people were killed and nine wounded in an “incident” that took place afterwards. It did not confirm reports that a shooting had taken place.
Both the Anadolu and Dogan news agencies said there was a shooting and video reports from the scene published by Dogan contained the sound of gunfire.
One of the victims later died in hospital from the wounds sustained in the attack, Anadolu said, bringing the death toll to four.
The lawmaker escaped unharmed, the reports said, but the identity of all the victims was not immediately clear.
There were conflicting reports about the circumstances of the killings, with pro-government media saying Yildiz and his supporters came under attack from opponents armed with knives and sticks.
The state-run Anadolu described it as an attack against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and added that among those killed was the MP’s brother.
It claimed that supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were among those involved in the attack.
In his first reaction to the incident, Erdogan appeared to blame the bloodshed on the HDP and the outlawed Kurdish militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
“This is the most obvious example that the HDP and PKK have not been able to abandon basing their growth strategy on feeding off the blood of Kurds,” he said.
“We have no problem with our Kurdish brothers. We have a problem with the PKK,” he said.
But unconfirmed reports on pro-Kurdish media blamed the MP’s bodyguards for the attack, after he was met with hostility during the visit to the shopkeepers.
“We are faced with very sad events with just days to go before June 24,” said the HDP’s co-leader Pervin Buldan.
“We see that some are trying to incite the people with provocations,” she added, condemning those behind the killings.
Reports indicated that the fighting had initially broken out after a dispute between Yildiz and a local representative of the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) which is close to the HDP.
After the first clashes, fighting even continued at the hospital where the wounded were brought, reports said.
Suruc, a mainly Kurdish town, was the scene of a bombing on July 20, 2015, blamed on so-called Daesh jihadists that killed 34 people and wounded about 100.
That bombing sparked huge tensions in Turkey at the time, with many Kurdish activists taking to the streets and accusing the government of not doing enough in the fight against Daesh.
Turkey is entering what is expected to be a tense final week of campaigning ahead of the polls.
Analysts are forecasting that the parliamentary and presidential elections will be tight, with Erdogan possibly forced into a run-off and with his ruling party at risk of losing its overall majority in parliament.
One of the crucial questions will be whether the HDP is able to exceed the 10 percent threshold needed to win seats in parliament. If it does, the AKP’s chances of winning an overall majority will be sharply reduced.
HDP presidential candidate and former leader Selahattin Demirtas is campaigning from behind bars following his arrest in November 2016 on charges of links to the PKK.

The Gulf’s war on smugglers

Updated 22 August 2019

The Gulf’s war on smugglers

  • Recent busts have included cash, cannabis and Captagon
  • Tech-savvy criminals play cat-and mouse with tech-savvy criminals

DUBAI: Bulk cash couriers, narcotics mules, counterfeit goods, wildlife trafficking —  spotting smugglers is all part of a day’s work for customs officials and law enforcement professionals in the Gulf.

Experts say that illegal trafficking in all its guises is bringing in billions each year for criminals worldwide, and the problem is increasing across the globe and the region.

In Saudi Arabia this week alone, officials arrested four passengers attempting to smuggle SR3.1 million ($830,000) in cash out of Madinah’s airport, while Saudi Arabian Border Guards intercepted two boats carrying large quantities of cannabis into the Kingdom. In a third bust, Saudi customs thwarted two attempts to bring more than 2.5 million Captagon (amphetamine) pills hidden in two vehicles into the Kingdom via a port.

Adel Hamaizia, a research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs at the think tank Chatham House, told Arab News that money laundering,  or cash smuggling, is a major trafficking problem for the Kingdom and wider GCC.

Smuggling of cash is a major trafficking issue for the Kingdom and region, adding to the problem of capital flight.  

“One of the methods aiding capital flight in the GCC is old-school smuggling of cash as well as precious metals,” he said. 

But trafficking of drugs, fuel and even wildlife are also adding to pressures facing customs officials.

“Cross-border fuel smuggling from Saudi Arabia into its neighbors has remained an enduring feature. However, energy pricing reforms in the Kingdom in recent years have stifled smugglers’ margins if not canceled them out altogether,” said Hamaizia. “When it comes to drugs, countries of the GCC serve as consumption destinations and transit hubs, but not production spaces.”

Many countries in the region serve as transit hubs for drug smuggling as a result of geography, infrastructure, porous borders and lengthy coastlines, he said.

“Drugs smuggled into GCC states include qat, opium, cannabis, and Captagon (the family of drugs known as amphetamines). Captagon is one of the major drugs smuggled from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt. 

“Wildlife smuggling such as houbara birds, pangolins, ivory, rhinoceros horns and others are also common across Gulf states. Doha serves as transit hubs for birds, mammals, ivory, and reptiles being transported between Africa and Asia.”

The Gulf is a transit point for trade passing through the region, so any and all types of illicit goods are smuggled.

Channing Mavrellis, of the think tank Global Financial Integrity, which works to curtail trade-related illicit financial flows, also highlighted the growing threat smugglers pose in the GCC. “The Gulf is a transit point for trade passing through the region, so any and all types of illicit goods are smuggled,” he said.

Experts say smuggling tactics are becoming increasingly sophisticated. “The methods used depend largely on the type of good being smuggled, its quantity and the level of risk/enforcement,” said Mavrellis. “For bulk cash smuggling or drug trafficking in smaller quantities, someone may simply conceal the illicit goods on their body or in their luggage. For larger quantities, smugglers may conceal the goods in a shipment of legitimate goods.”

However, Hamaizia warned that criminals are adopting new high-tech tactics. “The smuggling of lightweight drugs is now often supported by drones,” he said.

Smugglers are also turning to social media. In a report — Social Media and Drug Smuggling — published in journals earlier this year, authors noted the trend, saying: “Social media can be used for legal or illegal purposes by many individuals. Some may use these applications for drug smuggling. For example, Saudi Arabia Directorate General of Narcotics Control has arrested eight individuals for drug smuggling through social media.”

Saudi Arabia’s Border Guards this week intercepted two boats carrying large quantities of cannabis.  (Social media photo)

According to customs law jointly adopted by GCC countries, illegal transportation of goods can carry a jail term of up to 15 years. 

Meanwhile, many criminals are attempting to take advantage of the busy transit routes in the region.

Hamaizia said: “Traffickers and smugglers often opt for busier international airports where they may benefit from sloppier screening. Smugglers also focus on connecting flights, where screening is rushed and even non-existent in some cases.”

At Dubai International Airport, one of the region’s busiest hubs, authorities caught more than 1,000 people attempting to smuggle illegal goods into the UAE last year, with officials employing a wealth of new technologies. 

These include the Ionscan 500 DT, which can detect a wide range of military, commercial and homemade explosives as well as common illegal drugs, and the Thermo FirstDefender, a handheld device used to identify unknown solids or liquid chemicals.

Mavrellis said the challenge at busy transit routes was to search and question travelers while keeping operations running smoothly. 

“High volumes of international trade can make detecting smuggling difficult as customs agencies must strike a balance between trade facilitation and enforcement. Basically, it is the problem of finding a needle in a haystack — but without taking too much time,” he said.