Turkish President: Country not sending arms to terrorists in Syria

Story highlights

  • Turkey's President call out editor of opposition newspaper in live broadcast
  • Newspaper had published video that purports to show Turkey intelligence agency sending arms to Syria
  • Editor calls President's charges "the defense reflex of the state in Turkey"

(CNN)The Turkish president says a journalist will pay "a high price" for publishing leaked video footage that purports to show the country's intelligence agency sending weapons to Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday called out the head of Cumhuriyet -- a secularist pro-opposition newspaper -- in a live broadcast for publishing the footage.
"The person who published this story as an exclusive story will, I believe, pay a high price for this. I will not leave him be," said Erdogan, speaking to state broadcaster TRT.
    Many in Turkey view this as a thinly veiled threat against Can Dundar, the editor in chief of Cumhuriyet. The newspaper published video that purports to show ammunition being sent to anti-regime rebels in Syria. Dundar is facing an investigation under Turkey's anti-terror law for "treason and revealing state secrets" in publishing the footage.
    Dundar dismissed the allegation of treason against him, calling it "the defense reflex of the state in Turkey." Dundar published the controversial footage deemed a state secret by the government just a week before parliamentary elections in Turkey, but he remains unapologetic about the timing.
    "The weapons were most likely headed to ISIS, infamous globally for its brutality," he said.
    The video posted on Cumhuriyet shows men in gendarmerie uniforms and civilian clothing unscrewing bolts to open the holding area of the trucks and unpacking boxes of what look like medicine. The images after that show trucks full of mortar rounds. Cumhuriyet claims those are weapons being delivered to Syria by the Turkish Intelligence Agency or MIT.
    The newspaper claims there were tens of thousands of mortar rounds and ammunition in the trucks headed to groups fighting in neighboring Syria. Dundar claims the video is from the same sources as the investigation footage that surfaced when the trucks were stopped in 2014.
    "When you watch the footage from before, it is understood that those trucks are the same as the ones in this video," he told CNN via email. "Same camera, different angles."
    CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the video.
    The public prosecutor's office has asked that the video published by Cumhuriyet be removed from websites on the basis of national interest and national security, according to semi-official Anadolu News Agency. According to the court ruling, if websites do not remove the video, access to their sites could be blocked. The link for the story has since been deactivated. There is a reporting restriction by the state broadcasting regulatory agency about the investigation concerning the MIT trucks.
    While the release of this new bit of footage is new, pro-opposition media outlets and politicians have repeatedly accused the ruling Justice and Development Party and the MIT of sending arms to jihadi groups fighting in Syria, which they argue is a criminal act with serious consequences.
    The government has long denied allegations that it was arming terrorist groups operating in Syria and instead called the truck shipments aid to Turkmen groups. Many ruling party members and government officials have denied the claims.
    "The aid was going to Bayirbucak Turkmens," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told crowds in an election rally, referring to a little-known ethnic minority in war-torn Syria. "We have never helped any terrorist groups, and we will never will."
      Erdogan echoed Davutoglu's statement that the aid was headed for Turkmen groups, which many Turks feel close ethnic ties to. He also dismissed Cumhuriyet's claims that ISIS is getting weapons from Turkey, calling it an attempt to "cast a shadow on Turkey's image" and that parts of Cumhuriyet's reporting were based on information from the "parallel structure" working against the Turkish government.
      Parallel structure is a reference to followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, who were once Erdogan's staunch allies but have since had a public falling out. The government has been backing large-scale investigations, detentions and arrests within the judiciary and security forces of alleged Gulenists for what the government characterizes as treason, espionage and conspiring to overthrow the government. Prosecutors and security officers linked with the stopped MIT trucks are also under investigation and have been removed from their posts.