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Turkey confirms Syrian rebels with Al Qaida ties sought chemical weapons

Special to WorldTribune.com

ANKARA — Turkey has acknowledged that Syrian rebels were seeking to
acquire chemical weapons.

Prosecutors have determined that Sunni rebels linked to Al Qaida were
ordering precursors required for chemical weapons.

Al Qaida-aligned Nusra Front is said to be one of the most prominent rebel groups in northern and eastern Syria.  /AP

Al Qaida-aligned Nusra Front is said to be one of the most prominent rebel groups in northern and eastern Syria. /AP

The prosecutors have completed an indictment that charged a Syrian national with establishing a CW support network for the rebels who have been fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad.

“The suspects have pleaded not guilty saying that they had not been aware the materials they had tried to obtain could have been used to make sarin gas,” the indictment, filed in a court in the southern Turkish
province of Hatay, said.

This marked the first time that Turkey confirmed claims by Russia and Syria that Al Qaida-aligned rebel militias were acquiring CW precursors for attacks against the Syrian Army and security forces. In early September, the
United States, which blamed such attacks on the Assad regime, issued an intelligence assessment that ruled out any CW effort by the rebels.

The Turkish indictment identified Haitham Qassap as head of the
Syrian rebel CW network. Prosecutors said the the 35-year-old Qassap formed
links to supply CW precursors to the Al Qaida-aligned Nusra Front for the
Protection of the Levant and the Al Ahrar Al Sham Brigades.

Prosecutors said Qassap, based in the Turkish city of Antakya, appeared
to be seeking chemicals for the production of sarin. They said the Syrian,
deemed the leading defendant, telephoned Turkish companies and requested at
least eight chemicals. Two of the eight items required a permit by Turkish
authorities.

So far, 11 people have been arrested in connection with the rebel CW
network. Six of them — Qassap and five Turkish nationals — continued to be
held in an investigation that began in late May 2013.

The indictment said Qassap confessed to being an agent for Ahrar. He was
quoted as saying that he had been sent to Antakya by Ahrar leader Abu Walid
and was contacted by Syrian rebel militias for supplies.

“After I arrived in Antakya, other rebel groups had come into contact
with me,” the indictment quoted Qassap as saying. “While some had asked me
for medicine and other humanitarian aid supplies, others wanted to obtain
military equipment.”

Officials said Turkey has been urged by Russia and Syria to stop the
flow of CW precursors from Hatay. They said specific information on a
suspected Syrian rebel CW network was relayed to Ankara in the spring of
2013.

“Suspects have been consistently providing conflicting and incoherent
facts on this matter,” the indictment said.

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