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Greece arrests three heavily armed British Kurds near Turkish border

Authorities said the men were in possession of four pistols, 18 rifles and about 227,000 rounds of ammunition.
By Fred Lambert Contact the Author   |   Feb. 14, 2016 at 4:06 PM

ALEXANDROPOLIS, Greece, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Greek authorities apprehended three British men of Iraqi Kurdish descent under suspicion of smuggling a large amount of weapons and ammunition into Turkey on Saturday.

One 39-year-old suspect was arrested in eastern Greece at a border post on the Evros River, and two others, aged 22 and 28, were detained by the Greek coast guard in the port of Alexandropolis, 30 miles from the Turkish border.

Each suspect was an Iraqi Kurd with a British passport. Authorities said the men were in possession of four pistols, 18 rifles and about 227,000 rounds of ammunition.

"We don't have any evidence to connect them with [the Islamic State]," the Guardian quoted a police official as saying Sunday. "We have informed Europol and Interpol."

Citizens of the United States, Great Britain and other Western nations have in recent years been known to travel to war zones in Iraq and Syria to join Kurdish groups fighting IS militants.

The Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, is regarded by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union as a terrorist organization.

However, the Syrian People's Protection Units and Iraqi Peshmerga are both Kurdish groups that are supported by a U.S.-led coalition against IS forces in both countries.

The YPG and Peshmerga have been instrumental as a ground force in the U.S.-strategy against IS and, under cover of coalition airstrikes, have taken back territory from the extremists for more than a year.

Many Kurdish militants are motivated toward reunifying Kurdish territory -- particularly in southwestern Turkey and northern portions of Iraq and Syria -- that was divided by European powers following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

The arrests in Greece come amid tensions between Western nations and Turkey, a NATO ally of the United States and a member of the anti-IS coalition.

The Ankara government is involved in military operations in southwestern Turkey against the PKK and has been known to conduct raids across the Iraqi and Syrian border against the group -- and sometimes against the YPG.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week denounced the U.S. for its support of the YPG and its reluctance to categorize the group's political arm, the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, as a terrorist organization.

Turkey threatened to derail recent Syrian peace talks in Geneva after Saleh Muslim, the PYD chief, showed up to the negotiations uninvited. U.S. officials discreetly asked Muslim to leave, but the talks were suspended earlier this month after a lack of progress in the first week.

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