A North Korean cargo of gas masks and light arms was intercepted by Turkish authorities en-route to Syria in April, Japanese daily the Sankei Shimbun said on Tuesday.
The newspaper said that a Libyan-flagged vessel, the Al En Ti Sar, was stopped carrying firearms, large quantities of gas-masks, and ammunition on April 3 at the port of Dardanelles, in contravention of international sanctions prohibiting either North Korea or Syria from trading in arms.
The Sankei Shimbun said that U.S. military intelligence authorities had been monitoring the vessel, which subsequently tipped off Turkish authorities prior to its arrival at Dardanelles.
The paper added that due to increased scrutiny over shipments to Syria it was possible that the boat’s cargo of gas masks, 1,400 rifles and 30,000 bullets may have been scheduled to be unloaded in Turkey and transported by land to Syria.
Turkey detained the captain of the Libyan vessel and later charged him after he admitted his ship was on its way from North Korea to Syria with a cache of weapons, the paper said.
The news comes after former Syrian Army chief of staff of chemical warfare Major-General Adnan Sillu told media in September that staff from the chemical weapons program had visited North Korea several times “to buy protective equipment against poisonous materials, and chemical equipment.”
In September he also claimed that the Assad government had plans to transfer chemical weapons to Hezbollah and to use them on the Syrian people “as a last resort.”
“We were in a serious discussion about the use of chemical weapons, including how we would use them and in what areas,” Sillu said. “We discussed this as a last resort –– such as if the regime lost control of an important area such as Aleppo,” said the general.
Sillu told CNN that joint chemical warfare research was conducted at Al Safir. “There are warehouses there used for experiments on poisonous grenades that contain sarin gas, tabun gas and mustard gas,” he said.
Syria and North Korea have a long history of military to military cooperation, especially in the missile and chemical weapons sectors.
A deadly civil war continues to rage in Syria and observers claim that chemical weapons have already been used there, though it remains unclear whether the military or militia were responsible for the attacks.
News of the Turkish weapons seizure is the second such development in two months: in July Panamanian authorities announced that they had intercepted a North Korean vessel carrying aging weapons from Cuba to the DPRK port of Nampo.
Additional reporting by Nate Thayer, in Washington D.C
Picture: Flickr Creative Commons by boviate, modified by NK News