Turkiye steps up commitment to combat cross-border drug networks

Turkiye steps up commitment to combat cross-border drug networks
A screengrab taken from a video showing the Turkish police, in a collaborative effort between Croatian and Turkish authorities and bolstered by Interpol’s support, arresting Croatian drug trafficker Nenad Petrak on Saturday in Istanbul. (X/@haskologlu)
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Updated 18 November 2023
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Turkiye steps up commitment to combat cross-border drug networks

Turkiye steps up commitment to combat cross-border drug networks
  • Direct, unacknowledged relationship exists between transnational criminal activities, regional stability in international relations, analyst says
  • Petrak’s capture unfolded in Uskudar, located on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, as part of the broader Europe-wide initiative termed Operation Adriatica

ANKARA: In a collaborative effort between Croatian and Turkish authorities, bolstered by Interpol’s support, Turkiye played a pivotal role in the apprehension of Nenad Petrak, a Croatian drug trafficker, during the early hours of Saturday in Istanbul.
The meticulously executed Operation Cartel-2 led to the arrest of Petrak, who was on Interpol’s red notice list for his alleged involvement in ferrying narcotics from South America into Europe.
He stands accused as the mastermind behind an expansive transnational criminal network involving widespread drug trafficking operations.
Petrak’s capture unfolded in Uskudar, located on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, as part of the broader Europe-wide initiative termed Operation Adriatica.
The Croatian Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime’s report delineates Petrak’s footprint as a drug dealer operating across nine countries, a testament to the international scale of his illicit activities.
Turkish authorities had vigilantly tracked Petrak for an extended period, culminating in his apprehension during this operation.
Turkiye has intensified its anti-drug measures in recent weeks, signaling a concerted effort catalyzed further by the appointment of a new interior minister who has conducted dozens of anti-narcotics operations across the country.
This strategic push has reverberated across the region, marking a substantial impact on combating cross-border drug-related offenses.
Colin P. Clarke, director of research at The Soufan Group, thinks this is a crucial arrest against a critical node in transnational organized crime.
“So much of the international community’s efforts are focused strictly on counterterrorism, but taking down drug cartels is also essential to ensuring domestic stability,” he told Arab News.
“As we’ve seen with some of the drug trafficking groups in Europe, when these organizations grow too powerful, they can pose a significant danger to the public and the security services.”
Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya took to his social media platform to affirm the nation’s commitment to eradicating domestic and international organized crime networks, denouncing them as purveyors of toxicity.
“Our resolve to rid our nation of these criminal organizations and drug peddlers remains resolute,” Yerlikaya said.
“Our relentless pursuit against drug traffickers and organized crime syndicates will escalate with unwavering determination.”
Petrak’s capture is expected to contribute to the ongoing global fight committed to dismantling drug cartels.
Last week, the ringleader of Kompanio Bello, another drug cartel, who was wanted with a red notice, was apprehended in Istanbul.
Authorities in Albania and Italy were seeking him for charges including “intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, forging travel documents, and (illegally) providing weapons and ammunition.”
The cartel leader Dritan Rexhepi had been put under international surveillance for a long time and entered Turkiye through Istanbul Airport with a Colombian passport under the alias Benjamin Omar Perez Garcia.
The operation was carried out through intelligence sharing with the Italian police.
Ersel Aydinli, professor at the international relations department at Bilkent University in Ankara, said a direct but unacknowledged relationship exists between transnational criminal activities and regional stability in international relations.
“When states fail to have good cooperation practices, this can lead to a potential surge in transnational illicit activities, from terrorism to organized crime. In recent decades, our region has seen high levels of human mobility, and along with this, naturally, a rise in levels of cross-border organized crime,” he told Arab News.
“As societies start to feel the effects of this, they put pressure on their governments, which in return begin cooperating more on these matters, using existing international instruments and agencies such as Interpol and Europol.”
According to Prof. Aydinli, these recent high-profile arrests indicate that states can collect valuable intelligence, share it effectively, and achieve concrete outcomes.
“They signal an end to any brief sense people might have had of a loss of control over these criminal networks and are also a signal to the criminal networks themselves that the era of relaxed business is over,” he said.
For Aydinli, regional security is always based on governments’ willingness to cooperate.
“These types of practices of cooperation are thus crucial because they serve as the foundations for larger security cooperation in the sense of being trust and confidence-building measures among the states and within the intergovernmental institutional capacities,” he said.
Turkish authorities apprehended in early July Isaac Bignan, also known as the “Black Mamba,” and Jurean Anthony Finix, a Dutch national — two key figures in the criminal organization led by Dutch drug lord Joseph Johannes Leijdekkers. They were both wanted by Interpol with a red notice.


Syrian state media: explosive device blows up car in Damascus

Syrian state media: explosive device blows up car in Damascus
Updated 57 min 27 sec ago
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Syrian state media: explosive device blows up car in Damascus

Syrian state media: explosive device blows up car in Damascus
  • Security incidents, including blasts targeting military or civilian vehicles, occur intermittently in the capital
  • It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the blast or who was the target

DAMASCUS: An explosive device went off in a car in an upscale neighborhood of Damascus Saturday, Syrian state media said, quoting a police source and adding that there were no victims.
Security incidents, including blasts targeting military or civilian vehicles, occur intermittently in the capital. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the blast or who was the target.
But it came with tensions high in the city after Iran vowed retaliation for an air strike it blamed on Israel.
The April 1 strike destroyed the Iranian consulate in Damascus, killing seven Revolutionary Guards, including two generals.
Syria’s official SANA news agency, quoting a Damascus police command source, said an explosion “in the Mazzeh area resulted from an explosive device detonating in a car in Al-Huda square.”
It added that there were no casualties.
The city’s Mazzeh district is where Iran’s embassy and other foreign missions are located.
Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said without elaborating that the driver of the car was “a Lebanese national who has yet to be identified.”
The Observatory, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria, said the authorities had cordoned off the scene of the explosion, and that the vehicle had been “slightly damaged.”
Both Damascus and Tehran blame Israel for the April 1 raid on the consular building, but it has not commented.
The Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has a significant presence in the Damascus region.
The strike came against the backdrop of Israel and Hamas’s ongoing war, which began with the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel.


Missing Israeli teen found ‘murdered’ in West Bank: Netanyahu

Missing Israeli teen found ‘murdered’ in West Bank: Netanyahu
Updated 13 April 2024
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Missing Israeli teen found ‘murdered’ in West Bank: Netanyahu

Missing Israeli teen found ‘murdered’ in West Bank: Netanyahu
  • The disappearance of 14-year-old Benjamin Achimeir on Friday sparked a huge manhunt and attacks on Palestinian villages
  • Achimeir went missing early on Friday from the Malachi Hashalom outpost near the city of Ramallah

JERUSALEM: A missing Israeli teenager was found dead in the occupied West Bank on Saturday, in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “heinous murder.”
The disappearance of 14-year-old Benjamin Achimeir on Friday sparked a huge manhunt and attacks on Palestinian villages.
“The heinous murder of the boy... is a serious crime,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
Israeli forces “are in an intensive pursuit after the heinous murderers and all those who collaborated with them,” he said.
Achimeir went missing early on Friday from the Malachi Hashalom outpost near the city of Ramallah.
His body was found nearby, the Israeli army and security forces said.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis live in West Bank settlements considered illegal under international law.
The incident comes with tensions already high due to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
Following Achimeir’s disappearance, Israeli security forces and hundreds of volunteers formed a search party.
On Friday afternoon Jewish settlers who were part of the manhunt raided the village of Al-Mughayyir near Malachi Hashalom, according to an AFP reporter.
At least one person was killed and 25 wounded, the Palestinian health ministry said on Friday.
Overnight, the official Palestinian news agency reported that five Palestinians were injured in another settler attack in the Abu Falah village near Ramallah.


Iran says Israel ‘in complete panic’ over Syria attack response

Iran says Israel ‘in complete panic’ over Syria attack response
Updated 13 April 2024
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Iran says Israel ‘in complete panic’ over Syria attack response

Iran says Israel ‘in complete panic’ over Syria attack response
  • “It has been a week that the Zionists are in complete panic and are on alert,” said Yahya Rahim Safavi
  • “They don’t know what Iran wants to do, so they and their supporters are terrified”

TEHRAN: An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader said Saturday that Israel is panicking over a possible retaliatory response from Iran after a strike in Syria which killed members of its Revolutionary Guards.
“It has been a week that the Zionists are in complete panic and are on alert,“
Yahya Rahim Safavi, senior adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
“They don’t know what Iran wants to do, so they and their supporters are terrified,” ISNA quoted him as saying.
Tehran has blamed Israel and vowed to avenge the April 1 air strike on Damascus that levelled the Iranian embassy’s consular annex, killing seven members of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including two generals.
Following the strike, which Israel has not commented on, its army announced a leave suspension. It also said officials decided to increase manpower and draft reserve soldiers to operate air defenses.
“This psychological, media and political war is more terrifying for them than the war itself, because they are waiting for an attack every night and many of them have fled and gone to shelters,” Safavi added.
Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the April 1 strike killed 16 people. Among the dead were generals Mohammad Reza Zahedi and Mohammad Hadi Hajji Rahimi who were senior commanders in the Quds Force, the IRGC’s foreign operations arm.
Zahedi, 63, was the most senior Iranian soldier killed since a United States missile strike at Baghdad airport in 2020 killed Quds Force chief General Qasem Soleimani.
The strike in Damascus took place against the backdrop of the Gaza war which began with Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel which killed 1,170 people, mostly civilians.
Tehran backs Hamas but has denied any direct involvement in the attack which triggered relentless bombardment and a ground invasion as Israel vowed to destroy Hamas.
The health ministry in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory says at least 33,686 people have been killed there during six months of war.
Iran does not recognize Israel, and the two countries have fought a shadow war for years.
The Islamic republic accuses Israel of having carried out a wave of sabotage attacks and assassinations targeting its nuclear program.


Northern Gaza facing ‘catastrophe’ without more aid — OCHA official

Northern Gaza facing ‘catastrophe’ without more aid — OCHA official
Updated 13 April 2024
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Northern Gaza facing ‘catastrophe’ without more aid — OCHA official

Northern Gaza facing ‘catastrophe’ without more aid — OCHA official
  • Jamie McGoldrick says communication issues hampering aid delivery, putting aid workers at risk
  • Israel’s military campaign has severely damaged infrastructure, 70% of people at risk of famine

LONDON: Northern Gaza faces a catastrophe without more assistance, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator said on Friday, with communication between the Israeli military and foreign aid groups still poor and no meaningful improvements happening on the ground.

Jamie McGoldrick, who works for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, warned that Gaza was sliding into an ever more precarious situation as Israel’s war against Hamas continues into a sixth month.

He said that according to an Integrated Food Security Phase Classification report 70 percent of people in the north of the Gaza Strip were “in real danger of slipping into famine.”

In a briefing on the situation, McGoldrick said the deaths of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers earlier this month were “not a one off” and that there had been “many incidents of that kind.”

“We work with, interact with, the Israeli Defense Forces and the way we notify and communicate is challenging. We don’t have communications equipment inside Gaza to operate properly, as you would have in … other situation(s),” he said.

“We are working in a very hostile area as humanitarians without the possibility of contacting each other. We don’t have radios, we don’t have mobile networks that work. And so, what we then do is we have to find ways of passing messages back to OCHA and other organizations in Rafah and then relaying out. And if we have a serious security incident, we don’t have a hotline, we don’t have any way of communicating (with) the IDF or facing problems at checkpoint or facing problems en route.

“I think that another thing, I would say, that there’s a real challenge of weapons discipline and the challenge of the behavior of (Israeli) soldiers at checkpoints. And we’ve tried, time and time again, to bring that (to their) attention.”

McGoldrick said that communication with the Israeli military was hampering the flow of aid into Gaza.

“Israel believes that their responsibility ends when they deliver trucks from Kerem Shalom and to the Palestinian side, and I would say that that’s certainly not the case,” he said.

“Their responsibility ends when the aid reaches the civilians in Gaza — we have to have them supportive of that. And that means allowing more facilitation, a lot more routes in and, obviously, to provide security for us as we move. At the moment, we don’t have security.”

He said the toll the war had taken on Gaza’s basic infrastructure was also playing a part in hampering aid deliveries.

“The roads themselves are in very poor condition. We are, as the UN, committed to using all possible routes to scale up humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza, but right now we see that there have been a number of commitments made by Israel and a number of concessions,” he said.

“I don’t think there’s been any notable improvement in terms of our ability to move around, certainly not our approval to get convoys going to the north.”

Opening more crossings to supply northern areas of Gaza was an essential step if famine was to be avoided in the area, McGoldrick said.

“All we can do is keep reminding (Israel) and using the pressure from key (UN) member states to remind Israel of the commitments they’ve made and the commitments that we’ve been asking for such a long time.

“That would be an essential lifeline into the north, because that’s where the population, according to the IPC — the recent famine report — that is where the bulk of people who are the most in danger of slipping into famine.

“If we don’t have the chance to expand the delivery of aid into all parts of Gaza, but in particular to the north, then we’re going to face a catastrophe. And the people up there are living such a fragile and precarious existence.”

McGoldrick also noted the difficulty in accessing fresh water and the devastation caused to Gaza’s health sector by Israel’s military campaign.

“People have very much less water than they need. And as a result of that, waterborne diseases due to the lack of safe and clean water and the destruction of the sanitation systems, you know, they’re all bringing about problems for the population living (there),” he said.

“The hospital system there, Al-Shifa, and Nasser, the two big hospitals have been badly damaged or destroyed. And what we have now is three-quarters of the hospitals and most of the primary healthcare clinics are shutting down, leaving only 10 of 36 hospitals functioning.

“We hear of amputations being carried out with(out) anesthesia. You know, miscarriages have increased by a massive number. And I think of all those systems which are not in place, (and) at the soaring rates of infectious diseases — you know, hepatitis C, dehydration, infections and diarrhea. And obviously, given the fact that our supply chain is so weak, we haven’t been able to deliver enough assistance.”


UK navy, marines make massive drug seizure in Indian Ocean

UK navy, marines make massive drug seizure in Indian Ocean
Updated 13 April 2024
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UK navy, marines make massive drug seizure in Indian Ocean

UK navy, marines make massive drug seizure in Indian Ocean
  • Royal Marines capture 2 vessels as part of Mideast anti-crime task force
  • More than $41m worth of heroin, hashish, crystal meth seized

LONDON: The UK’s Royal Navy seized more than $41 million worth of heroin, hashish and crystal meth in the Middle East, the Daily Telegraph reported on Saturday.

Over a 24-hour period, the crew of HMS Lancaster, in tandem with the Royal Marines, intercepted drug smuggling vessels in the Indian Ocean carrying 3.7 tonnes of the contraband.

The operation, which led to the seizure of two ships, was part of a Canadian-led task force targeting criminal activity in the region.

Both seizures involved a Wildcat helicopter taking off from the Lancaster before sighting suspicious vessels in the area.

Royal Marines were then deployed to capture the ships. Naval search teams discovered more than 100 packages of drugs on board the first vessel, and 2.4 tonnes of hashish on the second, the Ministry of Defence said. The Lancaster crew subsequently destroyed more than 2 tonnes of the drugs.

Defense Secretary Grant Shapps hailed the operation as a “fantastic achievement,” adding: “The Royal Navy continue to lead the UK’s commitment to disrupting drug smugglers across the globe.”

The Lancaster’s commanding officer, Chris Sharp, said: “I am exceptionally proud of the entire team in Lancaster executing these two interdictions on the first two days of our deployment.

“Complex interceptions like these in such a challenging environment require true teamwork across the entire ship’s company.”