Turkey is preparing to prosecute a French national accused of smuggling possible chemical-weapon ingredients into Syria amid concerns that the civil-war-torn nation's government is secretly trying to hold on to chemical arms, al-Monitor reported on Tuesday.
Turkish soldiers on Nov. 2 shot out the wheels of three automobiles attempting to cross the border into Syria carrying more than a ton of sulfur, as well as eight drums of an unidentified substance. An earlier report said the convoy was moving in the opposite direction -- from Syria into Turkey.
While most of the vehicles' occupants escaped, the French national with Bosnia-Herzegovina citizenship was caught. He "said he had nothing to do with the seized supplies," according to al-Monitor.
The incident could spotlight a possible Turkish connection to chemical-weapons developments in Syria, where international officials are overseeing an effort to destroy an arsenal of the warfare materials declared by the government of President Bashar Assad. The leader admitted his regime possessed chemical weapons and agreed to their destruction in September, shortly after a nerve-gas attack on civilians near Damascus raised the prospect of U.S. military intervention in the Middle Eastern nation.
The leader of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the disarmament effort, on Tuesday said transporting the materials outside of Syria is "the most viable option" for carrying out plans to eliminate them by the first half of 2014. The government in Damascus would also favor such an approach, OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü added in a statement.
Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator for the U.N.-OPCW mission in Syria, on Tuesday said international personnel would travel as quickly as possible to the final two unvisited Syrian chemical-arms sites declared by Damascus, the Associated Press reported. OPCW officials last week said Syria had destroyed all critical equipment at its declared chemical-weapons production and mixing locations, even though security concerns prevented auditors from reaching two of the country's 23 disclosed sites for the arms.
Meanwhile, Washington is examining new intelligence indications that Damascus might be attempting to conceal some of its chemical-arms assets, CNN reported on Tuesday. U.S. officials previously estimated the Syrian government had 45 chemical-arms sites, and remain unsure if that fits with Assad's declaration that the country has just 23 sites with 41 facilities.