Turkey arrests 17 over `Syria arms interception`

A Turkish court on Friday placed under arrest pending trial 17 soldiers charged in a hugely controversial case over the interception last year of a consignment that allegedly contained arms bound for Syria.

Istanbul: A Turkish court on Friday placed under arrest pending trial 17 soldiers charged in a hugely controversial case over the interception last year of a consignment that allegedly contained arms bound for Syria.

The 17 have been charged with membership of a terrorist organisation and working on behalf of the "parallel state", common official shorthand for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan`s arch enemy the US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen.

A total of 32 soldiers detained after prosecutors issues warrants at the weekend had appeared before the Istanbul court but 15 were allowed to go free, 10 of them under judicial supervision.

A date for the trial has yet to be set.

In January last year, Turkish security forces stopped and seized seven trucks near the Syrian border that were suspected of seeking to smuggle weapons into Syria.

A series of documents were then leaked on the Internet indicating that the seized trucks were actually National Intelligence Agency (MIT) vehicles delivering weapons to Syrian Islamist rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey has vehemently denied aiding Islamist rebels in Syria, such as the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, although it wants to see Assad toppled.

Turkey earlier this year imposed an all-out media blackout, including on Facebook and Twitter, prohibiting publication of the allegations.

It is not yet clear what precise role the 17 accused are alleged to have played in the affair.

As well as membership of a terror group and working for the parallel state, they have been charged with illegal eavesdropping, forging illegal documents and working to overthrow the government.

The controversy erupted on January 19, 2014 when Turkish forces stopped trucks bound for Syria suspected to have been loaded with weapons. But they then found MIT personnel were on board.

The Turkish authorities have sought to blame the scandal on Gulen who Erdogan accuses of running a parallel state through supporters in the judiciary and security forces with the aim of usurping him.

A former ally of Erdogan, Pennsylvania-based Gulen has a range of interests in Turkey and abroad through his Hizmet (Service) movement in the education, media and financial sectors. 

Supporters of Gulen, who have been pressured by a wave of arrests in the past months, ridicule the allegations and accuse Erdogan of leading Turkey to dictatorship.