The plane, a civilian Ilyushin, en route from Tehran to Syria, was forced to land at Diyarbakir Airport in Turkey’s Southeast for an inspection on Saturday night upon orders from Turkish authorities.
Turkish media reports said boxes on the plane contained rocket launchers, mortars, Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition, although there was no official statement on the content of the cargo. “Routine controls determined there was banned material on the plane which fell within the scope of UN sanctions imposed on Iran and this material was confiscated,” spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, Selçuk Ünal, said in a written statement in response to a question from a journalist. “The plane was allowed to leave Turkey and return to Iran today without the banned material,” Ünal noted.
The Anatolia news agency had previously reported that seven people from the plane had been detained, but Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters late on Tuesday that there had been no arrests.
Underlining that it was “a routine procedure applied when deemed necessary” by Turkey for any foreign plane that wants to use Turkish airspace, Davutoğlu said “the content of the cargo” was the reason for the lengthy search of the plane. He did not elaborate further.
Last Tuesday another plane was similarly forced to land in Diyarbakır but departed the following day after a search squad trained in chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear cargo found nothing illegal.
The UN nuclear watchdog is looking into allegations of covert atomic activity in Syria. Iran and Syria, who are close allies, deny harboring any nuclear weapons ambitions.
A UN Security Council resolution bans the supply, trade or transfer of any arms and related material between Iran and all states. Any transfer and procurement of weapons from Iran is a breach of international obligations under the UN resolution. In the past, Turkey has conducted similar searches of Iranian planes. Two of those incidents took place in July and August 2006, when the Turkish Foreign Ministry forced two Syria-bound Iranian planes to land at Diyarbakır Airport and submit to a search for rockets and other military equipment during a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. At the time, a Turkish official had confirmed that they had not been the only planes that had been forced to land.
Last week’s incident in Diyarbakır occurred on the same day that Israel announced it had seized a cargo ship loaded with weapons sent by Iran to Palestinian militants in Gaza, including sophisticated land-to-sea missiles that officials said could change the balance of power in the area.