21st Century Darra

by Ali M. Koknar, TRC Terrorism Research Associate

August 31, 2005

Since June, Turkish newspapers have headlined a few cases of Turkish manufacturers and exporters being investigated by the Turkish customs (upon reporting by the IAEA) for secret shipments of dual-use nuclear components to Iran (made in Russia) and to Libya (made in Turkey).

Remember Darra, Pakistan in the late 1980s to mid 90s, where you could get anything from a Saturday Night Special to a Chinese-made MANPADS? Well, Northern Iraq is on its way to become the Darra of our day and the gateway to it is Khabour/Zakho, the only legal border crossing between Iraq and Turkey.

In 2004, alone Turkish customs detected 13 separate incoming shipments of cargo from Iraq as radioactive and refused entry to them.

The quantity of war surplus (from butchered BTRs to artillery shell casings) is enormous. 250 thousand tons had been imported into Turkey from the end of the war in April 2003 until mid-2004. And this mass is quite hazardous too. Turkish scrappers carved out 24 metric tons of TNT from the shell casings which is being disposed of by the Turkish military at this time. This author personally sat atop a giant pile of these brass shell casings and intact artillery shells, in Arbil, Northern Iraq in June 2003, as they awaited in a local merchant’s warehouse. But it does not stop there.

Turkish Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials tested pieces of scrap as radioactive at levels hazardous to human health (Depleted Uranium impacted ex-armor and/or traces of the missing WMD?). Scrap metal workers have been killed in accidental explosions at scrapyards in southern Turkey.

But back to our subject: the proliferation of HEU and/or weaker radioactive material.

• Between 1992 and 2002, there were 110 incidents in Turkey investigated on suspicion of nuclear trafficking.

• In 14 of these 110 investigations, radioactive materials were seized.

• 11 of these 14 were indeed nuclear materials, and 3 were only emitting various levels of radiation.

• In the early to mid 90s different amounts of HEU had been seized in Turkey, originating anywhere from Uzbekistan to Georgia.

• In 2003, there were only 4 incidents of attempted nuclear trafficking in Turkey (bearing in mind that the rule of thumb in the law enforcement community is that you only bust 10% of what actually goes through).

• In 2004, there were 18 incidents, including the 13 shipments refused entry at Khabour and 5 others which managed to sneak past Turkish customs but were somehow detected while en-route domestically.

In the light of this information, and not forgetting that even legitimate Turkish industrialist (not to mention gangsters) have been involved in assisting the nuclear programs of Pakistan, Libya, Iraq and Iran in the last 2-3 decades, and the extensive Turkish business involvement from Kazakhstan in the East to California in the West, in May 2004, IAEA rightfully designated Turkey as the “second most important nuclear trafficking transit point” after Pakistan.


Ali M. Koknar is a private security consultant in Washington, DC, specializing in counterterrorism and international organized crime. His e-mail is

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