ISTANBUL — The events took place after the beginning of the Mosul operation. The Iraqi military had gained control of both the Gogjali neighborhood and the town of Qaraqosh, also known as Bakhdida, both near Mosul. The Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a British NGO researching arms in conflict zones, entered these areas alongside the military. They found terror group ISIS's weapons manufacturing facilities.
It turns out that ISIS was running a sophisticated operation to make guns and explosives. They apparently had the same standards as a country would have. Much of the material used came from facilities in Turkey — the sugar used in rocket fuel, the grade of aluminum needed for bombs, the grease to smooth guns and ammunition, the cement used for making mortar shells, the potassium nitrate manure used to make rockets.
There are two important angles here. First, CAR had published another report in February that detailed the materials used by ISIS to produce explosives. The NGO revealed that 13 Turkish companies supplied the components used by ISIS. Nine months later, CAR saw in its Mosul research that these materials remained on the ISIS supply chain. Second, CAR staff could not make any progress when they contacted the Turkish companies and government because no one shared information.
I recently met CAR executive director James Bevan to speak about the findings of his NGO's research. I asked for details about their findings of potassium nitrate to deepen my research. Why did I choose this substance? It's because all the other materials are legal in industrial production. But potassium nitrate was banned in Turkey in June because of its usage in the production of bombs. So how did it enter the ISIS supply chain?
An ISIS handmade rocket on the Mosul Highway — Photo: Osie Greenway/ZUMA
First, I got the numbers on the packages with the logo of the Turkish company Doktor Tarsa: 18258, 21019, 18745, 100427, 12657, 120215, 11407, 240412 and 18472. Then I contacted Doktor Tarsa. It's a respected company with foreign partners and manufacturing plants in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions of Turkey. I wanted to know the name of the retail dealers the company sold the packages to. I received an answer from the communications associate at their sales department. They first wanted to know why I was asking for this information, and then told me: "I want to inform you that we can answer officially when this information is requested by an official document in writing or to share [the information] with the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey." I contacted the company's higher executives. This time the answer came from the company's general director Ali Behzat Özman; it was a response with accusations that advised me to contact the government of Turkey.
So, I contacted the government. I was told that related data is at the agriculture department. But the official I spoke with at the ministry told me that their database does not include the numbers on the packages. He told me they know which retail dealer gets how much but they do not keep track who the packages go to. Since the company has already stated that they would share this information only with Turkish intelligence, I had exhausted my options as a journalist.
I do not know if Turkish intelligence asked for this information or Doktor Tarsa told them. The company refused to answer that question too. I do have some data that might be useful though. The potassium nitrate manure used by ISIS to make rocket fuel in the kind of rockets that hit Kilis among other places. Ammonium nitrate manure used by ISIS directly produces explosives. Check the website of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) to see when Turkey had exported ammonium nitrate to Syria before the civil war. It was sent just twice — in 2003 and 2008. What about after the war started? "Syrian farmers" suddenly realized the importance of ammonium nitrate and started to import it from Turkey since 2013 — 1195 tons in the first year, 9542 tons in 2014 and 2576 tons in 2015. They were well-stocked before it was also banned in 2016. I thought you had the right to know this.
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