Mystery over the fate of Özgür Örs, a noncommissioned officer who went missing while deployed on the Turkish-Syrian border in the south of the country last Thursday, remains unresolved.
In a statement on Monday, Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said all resources were mobilized to locate Örs and there was no confirmation that he was abducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) as initially reported by Turkish media outlets.
Speaking to Turkish media, Brigadier Gen. Ertuğrul Gazi Özkürkçü, a spokesman for the army, said they lost contact with Örs around 10:00 p.m. on Jan. 1 after the noncommissioned officer left to follow a lead on smugglers active on the border. Özkürkçü said Örs has not been heard from since and they had no information on whether he was held captive by ISIS, which controls a small part of territory located opposite the military outpost Örs was deployed.
The spokesman also denied reports that special operations units of Turkish security forces were conducting operations on the border but underlined that all "relevant agencies including the MİT were working on the matter meticulously," in reference to Turkey's National Intelligence Organization.
Örs was serving a border post in the Turkish province of Kilis situated opposite a district of Syria's Aleppo where ISIS is active. The area is known for rampant cross-border smuggling of goods. The officer reportedly left the outpost alone after detecting a group of smugglers on the border but it is highly unusual and risky for a military officer to intervene in smugglers who are often armed to teeth alone.
Some media outlets claimed Örs, a seasoned soldier who was promoted to the rank of noncommissioned officer from specialist sergeant in 2011, unknowingly stepped into the Syrian side while on pursuit of smugglers and captured by smugglers or ISIS militants on the other side of the border. Quoting anonymous sources, Milliyet daily said in a news article that Örs was under the surveillance of ISIS militants for a long while and militants ambushed him while he was alone on the Turkish side of the border.
A few weeks ago, ISIS established a base across the border from Örs's military outpost and deployed 500 militants. After the militants began digging trenches, Turkish authorities ordered the digging of similar trenches on the Turkish side to prevent smuggling and illegal crossings. Örs's military unit had captured 50 people attempting to cross into Syria to join ISIS in the past weeks.
ISIS had captured 49 Turkish nationals in June in the Iraqi city of Mosul after storming the country's consulate during its brutal takeover of the city. Hostages were released in September.
Smugglers have also been active along the border, where the Syrian side is mired in a state of lawlessness. On a number of occasions, large groups of armed smugglers have clashed with Turkish security forces on the border.
With the conflict escalating, Turkey reinforced its security forces deployed along the border. The country's border crossings with Syria have been closed since the uprising escalated into an all-out civil war but are occasionally opened for displaced Syrians seeking shelter in Turkey.
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