The ISIS Rockets “Made In Turkey”

In Iraq, near Mosul, ISIS was running a sophisticated operation to make guns and explosives. A new report has found much of the material used came from facilities in Turkey.

Confiscated ISIS chemical weapons
Confiscated ISIS chemical weapons
Tolga Tanis

ISTANBUL — The events took place after the beginning of the Mosul operation. The Iraqi military had gained control of both the Gogjali neighborhood and the town of Qaraqosh, also known as Bakhdida, both near Mosul. The Conflict Armament Research (CAR), a British NGO researching arms in conflict zones, entered these areas alongside the military. They found terror group ISIS's weapons manufacturing facilities.

It turns out that ISIS was running a sophisticated operation to make guns and explosives. They apparently had the same standards as a country would have. Much of the material used came from facilities in Turkey — the sugar used in rocket fuel, the grade of aluminum needed for bombs, the grease to smooth guns and ammunition, the cement used for making mortar shells, the potassium nitrate manure used to make rockets.

There are two important angles here. First, CAR had published another report in February that detailed the materials used by ISIS to produce explosives. The NGO revealed that 13 Turkish companies supplied the components used by ISIS. Nine months later, CAR saw in its Mosul research that these materials remained on the ISIS supply chain. Second, CAR staff could not make any progress when they contacted the Turkish companies and government because no one shared information.

I recently met CAR executive director James Bevan to speak about the findings of his NGO's research. I asked for details about their findings of potassium nitrate to deepen my research. Why did I choose this substance? It's because all the other materials are legal in industrial production. But potassium nitrate was banned in Turkey in June because of its usage in the production of bombs. So how did it enter the ISIS supply chain?

First, I got the numbers on the packages with the logo of the Turkish company Doktor Tarsa: 18258, 21019, 18745, 100427, 12657, 120215, 11407, 240412 and 18472. Then I contacted Doktor Tarsa. It's a respected company with foreign partners and manufacturing plants in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions of Turkey. I wanted to know the name of the retail dealers the company sold the packages to. I received an answer from the communications associate at their sales department. They first wanted to know why I was asking for this information, and then told me: "I want to inform you that we can answer officially when this information is requested by an official document in writing or to share the information with the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey." I contacted the company's higher executives. This time the answer came from the company's general director Ali Behzat Özman; it was a response with accusations that advised me to contact the government of Turkey.

So, I contacted the government. I was told that related data is at the agriculture department. But the official I spoke with at the ministry told me that their database does not include the numbers on the packages. He told me they know which retail dealer gets how much but they do not keep track who the packages go to. Since the company has already stated that they would share this information only with Turkish intelligence, I had exhausted my options as a journalist.

I do not know if Turkish intelligence asked for this information or Doktor Tarsa told them. The company refused to answer that question too. I do have some data that might be useful though. The potassium nitrate manure used by ISIS to make rocket fuel in the kind of rockets that hit Kilis among other places. Ammonium nitrate manure used by ISIS directly produces explosives. Check the website of the Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) to see when Turkey had exported ammonium nitrate to Syria before the civil war. It was sent just twice — in 2003 and 2008. What about after the war started? "Syrian farmers' suddenly realized the importance of ammonium nitrate and started to import it from Turkey since 2013 — 1195 tons in the first year, 9542 tons in 2014 and 2576 tons in 2015. They were well-stocked before it was also banned in 2016. I thought you had the right to know this.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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