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Handgun cache 'may have been non-lethal'

Turkish arms maker believes weapons may have been non-lethal handguns manufactured at his factory

ISTANBUL // The cache of 16,000 handguns seized in Dubai may have been non-lethal, blank-firing pistols, a Turkish arms manufacturer said yesterday.

Irfan Akdal said after examining photographs of the pistols that he believed they were non-lethal handguns that had been manufactured at his Ucyildiz Silah Sanayi factory in Istanbul.

He said that in January his company had sold a consignment of about the same amount of "traumatic" pistols, which fire non-lethal rounds such as rubber bullets, and blank-firing handguns to the Turkish export company involved in the case.

The company has not been named by Dubai police, and Mr Akdal also declined to identify the company.

According to a high-ranking Turkish diplomat, the government in Ankara is treating the case as "non-political". He said it was impossible at the moment to state with certainty whether the guns were blank-firing or real firearms.

"It looks like just a criminal incident, we are still investigating," said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

There was no statement by Turkish law enforcement agencies regarding the case.

Dubai police announced on Thursday that they had seized a cache of handguns worth an estimated Dh16 million, hidden among boxes of plastic-wrapped furniture bound for Sa'dah, in northern Yemen.

Six men have been arrested in Dubai in connection with the seizure, among them the owner of a Turkish arms company.

Yemen's north has been the scene of bloody fighting between the Shiite Houthi rebel group and Yemeni government forces for the past seven years.

"It looks like our product," Mr Akdal said, adding "we are not absolutely sure, but it is very possible" that the guns seized in Dubai came from his factory.

He said he had an invoice from the purchase dated January 12, but declined to give the name of the export company.

"This is our customer, we may get into trouble," he said.

Mr Akdal also said it was technically possible to convert blank-firing guns into real firearms, but the conversion was difficult and not safe for the person using the gun. "You can convert it, but it is dangerous. It can blow out."

According to Turkish media, all firearms exports require approval from the foreign ministry, while the export of blank-firing weapons needs approval issued by the ministry of industry.

The Turkish foreign ministry yesterday issued a statement on the seizure, saying no permission had been given for the attempted arms shipment and that an investigation had been launched.

With reference to Yemen, the suspected destination of the weapons, the foreign ministry underlined that Turkey was careful not to fuel tensions in other countries by arms deliveries.

"Our country strives to look carefully at requests for arms exports to countries experiencing or under the risk of violent clashes, and to make sure that arms transfers from our country do not result in instability," the statement said.

"Also, data related to arms exports from our country are transparently shared with the relevant international institutions."

Mr Akdal, the arms manufacturer, said he did not know to whom the export company sold the blank guns, or why the weapons were hidden in furniture. He also said he did not know the Turkish national arrested in connection with the suspected arms smuggling.

Turkish media reported the Turkish suspect, identified only by his first name Irfan in the reports, was a factory owner from Duzce in north-western Turkey. There was no confirmation from the government.

A Turkish arms company with a factory in Duzce, Sarsilmaz Silah Sanayi, said in a statement that it had nothing to do with the Dubai case.

Mr Akdal said the shipment of 16,000 guns was "a very small amount" for his company. "We are selling 30,000 every month," he said.

Most blank guns are used to fire into the air at weddings or other occasions, he added.

tseibert@thenational.ae

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