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Huge Drug Trafficking Raids Across Turkey Amid Terrorism Fears

Numerous drug raids have taken place across Turkey this month, including a large-scale anti-trafficking operation in Ankara, as authorities warn that the drug trade is linked to terrorism.

A series of raids across the Turkish capital on February 13 targeted people allegedly involved in drug trafficking, and led to the arrest of 58 suspects. The operation involved around 2,500 police officers descending on 15 addresses around the city, and seizing cannabis, heroin, cocaine, and firearms, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

This follows 556 raids that took place across the country last week, in which security forces seized 1.7 tons of cannabis, 43 kilograms of heroin, and large quantities of other drugs.

Due to its geographical location, Turkey has long-been a major transit country for drugs – particularly heroin – being trafficked into Europe from the Middle East.

Defending the Ankara operation, the provincial governor Ercan Topaca said that drugs "literally poison our children", but added that the raids were also "an important contribution [in] combating terrorism".

He identified three overlapping crime types that his government is targeting – drugs, sex work, and terrorism – and claimed that "it is not possible to separate them completely [from each other]".

Indeed, in recent years, Turkish authorities have been increasingly justifying crackdowns on the drug trade by associating it with terrorism and national security.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website identifies terrorism investigations as one of the “three pillars” of the state’s counter-narcotic policy. It explicitly warns of the threat of "narco-terrorist activities", particularly in relation to the drug trade financing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The PKK is a Kurdish nationalist group that has been involved in a bloody domestic conflict with Turkish security forces since 1978. A surge in violence since 2015 has left hundreds dead on both sides.

The Turkish government deems the PKK to be a terrorist organisation, and alleges that it earns over $1.5 billion annually from drug trafficking.

In November 2016, Prime Minister Banli Yildrim accused the PKK of “poisoning young people with drugs", and using the income to fund terrorism.

On February 14, one day after the Ankara raids, authorities claimed to seize $4 million worth of cannabis from seven alleged PKK members in Istanbul.

While the recent raids may have temporarily disrupted trafficking routes, the ability of the Turkish state to effectively reduce the drug trade is uncertain. The country faces increasing violence from both PKK and ISIS militants, and security forces are already under significant pressure to maintain stability on Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq.

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