Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has demanded that the editor of an opposition newspaper that published images allegedly showing a secret services's weapons shipment to Syrian rebels be jailed for life, in a move that has underscored high tensions ahead of the impending parliamentary elections.

Erdogan personally filed a criminal complaint against Turkish daily Cumhuriyet and its chief editor, Can Dundar, who he accused of espionage over a report linking Ankara's intelligence agency to rebel groups in the neighbouring country.

"The person who wrote this... will pay a heavy price," he told public broadcaster TRT according to Hurriyet Daily News.

Last week, Cumhuriyet published videos and photos depicting a convoy of trucks that was stopped and searched by local authorities near the border with Syria in January 2014.

The footage appears to show that the convoy, which government officials maintain contained humanitarian aid, actually carried weapons hidden underneath boxes of medicine.

The paper claimed some 1,000 mortar shells, grenade launchers and ammunitions of Soviet origin were found amid antibiotics and other equipment.

Turkey has vehemently denied supplying weapons to jihadist groups in Syria, such as the al-Nusra Front, despite its open opposition to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

After the search, Ankara launched a crackdown on those who ordered and carried it out, claiming they were all part of a conspiracy to destabilise the government orchestrated by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a rival of Erdogan.

Four prosecutors have been subsequently arrested and up to 30 security officers are facing a series of criminal charges including military espionage and attempting to overthrow the government, AFP reported.

As the images were published, the Istanbul prosecutor's office opened an investigation against Dundar over possible breached anti-terrorism laws.

Shortly afterwards Erdogan personally waded in and the editor is now facing a series of charges, including leading and being a member of a terrorist organisation, espionage and attempting to overthrow the government, the Zaman newspaper reported. Several counts can lead to a life sentence.

Turkey has been reluctant in its support of a US-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, as it sees ousting Assad as its priority. The country is to hold legislative elections on 7 June.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the legal action, accusing Erdogan of bullying journalists.

"We call on [Erdogan] to stop bullying journalists and news outlets such as Can Dundar and Cumhuriyet just because he doesn't like what they report," CPJ said.