Turkish pro-government newspaper publishes interview with alleged Mossad spy

Ram Ben-BarakA POPULAR TURKISH NEWSPAPER has published an interview with a member of a network of spies who were allegedly recruited by the Israeli agency Mossad to spy on Palestinian students living in Turkey. As intelNews reported last week, Turkish intelligence announced the arrests of 15 members of an alleged spy ring for the Mossad. Turkish media said that the 15 individuals were arrested on October 7 during simultaneous raids that took place across four different provinces. The counterintelligence operation to arrest the alleged spies took nearly a year and involved more than 200 officers of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT).

Last Friday, Turkey’s Sabah newspaper published a lengthy interview with one of the 15 alleged spies. The paper, which is politically aligned with the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, referred to the alleged spy using the initials “M.A.S.”, and claimed he is a Turkish citizen who was recruited by the Mossad. The alleged spy told the paper that he was first contacted in December 2018 by “an agent called A.Z.” through the WhatsApp phone application. After providing this individual with information about Turkish universities, he was sent funds via Western Union wire transfers. Other times he was paid by a man he met in a market in Istanbul, after showing him his identity card, along with a receipt that had been sent to him by A.Z.

Eventually, M.A.S. said he was instructed to travel to Switzerland, having first secured a visa for his trip through a company called European Student Guidance Center. Sabah claims the M.A.S.’ trip to Switzerland was paid for by the Mossad. While in there, M.A.S. met his alleged handlers, who taught him how to use strong encryption for sending documents and other information via secure email applications. However, even at that point he did not realize he was working for a foreign government, having been told by his handlers that they were employees of an “intelligence-like organization” in the private sector. According to Sabah, other members of the alleged spy ring met with their handlers, abroad, mostly in Switzerland and Croatia. Most were paid with cryptocurrency, conventional international money transfers, or sometimes in gold jewelry or foreign currency.

Importantly, Sabah did not say how its reporters were able to gain access to M.A.S. after his arrest by the Turkish authorities. The Turkish government has made no official statement about these arrests. Also on Friday, a number of Israeli public figures, including Ram Ben-Barak (pictured), former deputy director of the Mossad and current chairman of the Knesset’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, said that “none of the published names [in Turkey] were [of] Israeli spies”. Ben-Barak also cast doubt on the professionalism and capabilities of Turkish counterintelligence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 25 October 2021 | Permalink

Turkey announces arrest of Russian and Israeli alleged spies following crackdown

MIT Turkey

THE GOVERNMENT OF TURKEY has announced the arrest of 21 individuals, among them foreign citizens, whom it accuses of “political and military espionage” on behalf of Israel, and of planning assassinations ordered by Russia. Turkish authorities released separately two statements on Thursday, announcing the arrests of alleged spies for Israel and Russia respectively. The two sets of arrests do not appear to be connected, despite the fact that they were announced on the same day.

Six alleged assassins operating under Russian command were arrested on October 8 in Antalya, a tourist resort located on Turkey’s southern coast. Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) said the group includes four Russians, a Ukrainian and an Uzbek. They allegedly planned to kill a number of Chechen separatists who live in Turkey. In preparation of the alleged assassinations, group members “were in the process of obtaining weapons”, according to Turkish government prosecutors.

A court in Istanbul has reportedly ruled that the members of the alleged assassination team should remain behind bars, pending a trial for espionage. Meanwhile the a Russian government spokesman said on Thursday that the Kremlin was “not aware” of any Russian citizens having been arrested on espionage charges in Turkey, adding that the Russian embassy in Ankara had not been informed of any such arrests.

Meanwhile, in a separate announcement issued on Thursday, the MİT disclosed the arrests of 15 members of an alleged spy ring for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. Turkish media reports said the 15 individuals had been arrested in a series of raids that took place across four Turkish provinces on October 7, following a year-long counterintelligence operation. Turkish authorities claim that the spy ring monitored the activities of Palestinians living in Turkey and provided the information to the Mossad, in return “for tens of thousands of dollars and euros”. The Israeli government has not commented on these reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 October 2021 | Permalink

Revealed: Turkey helped Iraqi intelligence capture senior Islamic State figure

Syria–Turkey border

AN ELABORATE OPERATION WHICH, carried out jointly by Iraqi and Turkish intelligence, led to the arrest of one of the most senior officials of the Islamic State to be ever captured alive, according to sources. As intelNews reported on Monday, the Iraqi government announced the capture of Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi, who served as deputy to the Islamic State’s late spiritual leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Jasim, also known by the name Abu Asya, was the Islamic State’s treasurer during the group’s heyday, when it controlled territory equal to the size of Germany in Syria and Iraq. He survived the demise of the Islamic State’s territorial power, but continued serving in the organization’s financial arm under its current chief, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi. The Iraqi government announced Jasim’s capture on Sunday with a brief statement, which said he had been seized in a “complex operation outside the borders” of Iraq. No further details were made available.

On Tuesday, however, the Reuters news agency reported that Jasim was arrested on Turkish soil in a joint Turkish-Iraqi intelligence operation. Citing “a senior regional security source and two Iraqi security sources”, Reuters said that Jasim had been under surveillance in northwestern Syria for several months by Iraqi and Turkish intelligence. He was reportedly arrested by Turkish intelligence shortly after crossing into Turkey, where he was lured in an operation that included participants from Iraqi intelligence and “local security forces”. Reuters notes that the phrase “local security forces” most likely refers to Turkish backed Syrian militias, who operate along the Turkish-Syrian border.

The Reuters report also points out that Jasim’s arrest may illustrates a deepening cooperation between Turkish and Iraqi intelligence against the remnants of the Islamic State that continue to operate in northwestern Syria, a region that is largely under the control of Turkey. Turkish, Iraqi and American officials who were approached by Reuters refused to comment on the report.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 13 October 2021 | Permalink

Man caught with pistol and ammunition is Turkish spy, German prosecutor says

MIT Turkey

GERMAN AUTHORITIES ARE TREATING the arrest of a Turkish citizen, who was found with a pistol and 200 rounds of ammunition, “as a case of suspected espionage on behalf of the Turkish state” according to reports. The case was revealed late last week by Germany’s Federal Prosecutor General, Peter Frank, who said that the suspected spy was arrested at a hotel in the western German city of Düsseldorf during a raid that took place on September 17.

Local reports said the hotel raid was carried out by members of the Spezialeinsatzkommando (SEK), a police tactical unit, who stormed the building and used an armored vehicle to barricade its front door. They emerged from the hotel with the suspect, who has been identified in German media reports only as “Ali D.”, a Turkish citizen. He is now under investigation for collecting information on alleged supporters of the so-called Gülen movement. The Gülen movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims it was behind the failed 2016 coup against Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Federal Prosecutor General’s office has said that Ali D. was acting “on behalf of and under the guidance” of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), which is the state intelligence agency of Turkey. It also claims that “sufficient evidence” has emerged to establish this case as a “counterintelligence matter”. In his statement to the press, Frank said Ali D. was found in possession of a pistol, 200 rounds of ammunition and documents containing names and other personal information of alleged supporters of the Gülen movement. Some reports suggest that the police has linked this case with a suspected planned attack against Gülen supporters in Düsseldorf and Cologne.

The investigation of Ali D. has now officially been moved from the Düsseldorf Prosecutor’s office to the office of the Federal Prosecutor General.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 October 2021 | Permalink

Analysis: Turkey and Qatar emerge as Taliban government’s main envoys to the West

Turkish embassy in Afghanistan

TURKEY AND QATAR, TWO countries with a growing diplomatic and intelligence network inside Afghanistan, are emerging as significant envoys to the Western world for the new government of the Taliban. Their newfound role in the Central Asian country puts them in direct competition with China and Russia, which have kept their embassies in Kabul open throughout the dramatic events of the past month. Three other countries with historically close ties to the Taliban, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are also important players amidst the new reality in the war-torn country.

As a recent article by the BBC points out, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only countries to recognize the Taliban government in the 1990s, when the group last held the reins of power in Kabul. But they quickly cut diplomatic ties with it following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Their contacts with some of the older Taliban leaders remain strong, however.

In contrast to the older generation, some of the younger leaders of the Taliban see Qatar and Turkey as important mediators and conduits of communication with the outside world, and especially with the West. It is no accident that the Taliban entrusted the restoration of the —undoubtedly soon to be renamed— Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to technicians from Turkey and Qatar, who were hurriedly flown to the Afghan capital last week for that purpose.

In establishing relations of trust with the Taliban, Qatar is relying on a lengthy record of facilitating diplomatic connections between the militant group and Western powers. It should be recalled that it was in Doha that American and Taliban representatives negotiated the terms of Washington’s exit over several meetings spanning several administrations in the White House. In the past month, the Qataris used their links to the Taliban to assist numerous Western nations, including the United States, in evacuating their citizens from Afghanistan. Read more of this post

Dozens of senior Afghan officials, including spy chief, smuggled to Turkey

Kabul Airport Afghanistan

APPROXIMATELY 40 SENIOR OFFICIALS in the government of deposed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani have been secretly smuggled to Turkey in recent days. They include Afghanistan’s intelligence chief, according to reports in Turkish media. They claim that the Afghan officials were smuggled out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan by Turkish military and intelligence operatives. The latter reportedly hid the officials among crowds of Turkish citizens who were evacuated from Kabul in recent days, as the Taliban were entering the Afghan capital.

Turkish media said the Turkish embassy in Kabul had developed evacuation plans earlier this summer, as the Taliban were conquering large swathes of territory throughout the countryside, including a number of provincial capitals. These plans were put in place for the benefit of Turkish expatriates who lived and worked in Afghanistan. However, according to reports, Turkish embassy officials also reached out to “Afghan officials, who have close ties with Turkey” and informed them of the evacuation plans.

As Taliban forces began to enter Kabul, Turkish embassy officials put the evacuation plans into action, and invited selected Afghan officials to make use of them. Within hours, a Turkish Airlines passenger plane appeared on the tarmac of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Due to a previously agreed-to arrangement between Ankara and Washington, some parts of the airport were being guarded by Turkish troops. These troops reportedly helped guide the evacuees onto the aircraft, while keeping at bay “a large crowd” of people seeking to leave Kabul, who “started to run towards the plane”.

The aircraft eventually left Kabul with 324 passengers on board, including around 40 senior Afghan officials. Among them were Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the country’s Second Vice President, Sarwar Danish, as well as Ahmad Zia Sraj, who headed the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Formed in 2002, the NDS was the national intelligence and security service of Afghanistan until it was dissolved by the Taliban earlier this month. It is reported that most of its 30,000-strong force is now dispersed into refugee camps in India, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 August 2021 | Permalink

Turkish spies reportedly kidnapped nephew of dissident cleric Fethullah Gülen in Kenya

Nairobi KenyaTURKISH SPIES ALLEGEDLY KIDNAPPED a nephew of dissident cleric Fethullah Gülen in Kenya and forcibly transported him to Turkey, according to reports in Turkish media. Citing “government sources”, Turkey’s state-owned news agency, Anadolu, said this week that Selahaddin Gülen had been “forcibly repatriated” to Turkey from abroad by officers of the National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT. But it did not specify when or where the alleged operation took place.

Subsequent reports suggested that Selahaddin Gülen’s wife, Serriye Gülen, posted a video on social media, in which she said the couple lived in Nairobi, Kenya, and that her husband, who worked as a school teacher, had disappeared on May 3. It was also reported that Gülen’s alleged kidnapping was soon afterwards confirmed by media outlets connected to the Gülen movement.

The Gülen movement consists of supporters of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, who runs a global network of schools, charities and businesses from his home in the United States. The government of Turkey has designated Gülen’s group a terrorist organization and claims it was behind the failed 2016 coup against Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Ever since the failed coup, Erdoğan’s government has fired or imprisoned over 200,000 government employees, which it accuses of being “Gülenists”. The cleric, who lives in the US state of Pennsylvania, denies Erdoğan’s accusations.

It is not clear whether Gülen’s nephew was kidnapped in a cover operation, or whether he was delivered to the MİT by the Kenyan authorities. Since the failed 2016 coup, the Turkish government has pressured numerous countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa to arrest and extradite alleged Gülenists. Kenya has so far refused to take action against individuals and institutions that Ankara claims are connected to the Gülen movement.

It is worth noting that in 1999 the MİT carried out a controversial covert operation in Kenya, which resulted in the kidnapping of Kurdish separatist militant Abdullah Öcalan. Öcalan, 74, is the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey and several other countries have designated a terrorist organization. He remains imprisoned to this day.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 02 June 2021 | Permalink

Turkey and United States co-examine Russian missile system captured in Libya

Mitiga International AirportTURKEY AND THE UNITED States, two North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies with a checkered relationship, have agreed to jointly examine a Russian missile system that was captured by fighters in Libya. Turkish troops are present on the ground in Libya, where they are fighting in support of the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. The United Arab Emirates and Russia support the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of General Khalifa Haftar.

Last year, General Haftar led the LNA in a major offensive aimed at capturing Tripoli and ending the conflict between the two sides, which has raged for nearly a decade. He was supported by Emirati advisors and Russian troops, which are ostensibly in Libya as private security contractors, but are commonly thought to receive directions from the Kremlin. In a surprise move, Turkey sent troops to assist in the defense of Tripoli. These troops were instrumental in beating back the LNA, and effectively terminating General Haftar’s ambitions.

In the process of beating back General Haftar’s’s offensive, GNA fighters took over the LNA’s airbase in Al-Watiya, 100 miles southwest of Tripoli, which LNA forces abandoned in haste. Among the looting was a Russian-built Pantsir missile defense system —reportedly captured in pristine condition. This is the Russian armed forces’ state-of-the-art self-propelled anti-aircraft system, which fires medium-range surface-to-air missiles. It had reportedly been given to the LNA by the Emiratis.

The captured Pantsir system disappeared for a few weeks, and eventually reappeared in the hands of a local militia in the town of Zawiya. The militia is commanded by Mohamed Bahroun, a Libyan warlord with links to the Islamic State. Turkish troops struck a deal with Bahroun, whose forces agreed to deliver the Pantsir to the Turkish-controlled Mitiga International Airport on the outskirts of Tripoli. Shortly afterwards, the United States warned Turkey that it was prepared to forcibly take control of the missile system, fearing that it could fall in the hands of the Islamic State. Washington also wanted to get its hands on Russia’s state-of-the-art anti-aircraft system.

According to reports, the two countries reached a deal in recent weeks. The United States sent a C-17 Globemaster cargo plane to Mitiga airport from its AFRICOM base in Germany, and collected the Pantsir. It then delivered it to Ankara, where it is now being examined by a joint team of Turkish and American weapons experts. Some weapons specialists suggest that this development could significantly affect Russia’s ability to counter NATO military systems, given that the Pantsir’s technology will now be compromised.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 March 2021 | Permalink

Austria expels alleged assassin accused of working for Turkish government

Berivan AslanAUSTRIAN AUTHORITIES HAVE REPORTEDLY expelled from the country an Italian citizen of Turkish origin, who was allegedly hired by the Turkish government as an assassin. The man, Feyyaz Öztürk, 53, reportedly turned himself in to Austrian intelligence last year. According to the British press, Öztürk claimed he had been hired by the Turkish government to assassinate Berivan Aslan (pictured). Aslan, who is of Kurdish heritage, is a Viennese parliamentarian and a leading critic of Turkey’s treatment of its minority Kurdish population.

News reports claimed Öztürk’s mission was to terrorize members of the Kurdish expatriate community in Austria and elsewhere in Europe, who tend to be vocal critics of the Turkish government’s human rights record. British newspaper The Telegraph claimed that Öztürk had been tasked by Ankara to “ensure [Aslan] was hurt or died”, so that “other politicians get the message”. Öztürk also claimed that Turkish intelligence officials had blackmailed him in order to force him to carry out Alsan’s assassination. Moreover, he had been asked to kill two more Austrian public figures who are of Kurdish origin.

However, Öztürk reportedly aborted the assassination operation in March of last year, after he broke his leg in an accident during a trip to the northern Italian city of Rimini. Austrian prosecutors confirmed that an official investigation on Öztürk had concluded. It found that he had carried out “military espionage on behalf of a foreign state”, but did it not identify the state. Turkey has strongly denied that its intelligence agencies have any connection with Öztürk.

Öztürk’s espionage trial has been scheduled for February 4. However, according to Austrian law, he cannot be held in pre-trial detention and must be freed prior to his day in court. Rather than allow him freedom of movement inside Austria, the authorities decided to expel him to Italy. Öztürk’s lawyer said yesterday that her client had been designated “an imminent danger to public security” and taken to the Italian border shortly before Christmas.

The lawyer added that Öztürk wishes to return to Austria to attend his trial in February. There are suspicions among intelligence observers that the Austrian state would prefer Öztürk not to return to Austria, so as to avoid exposing espionage methods and sources in court. Meanwhile, Aslan said she remains under police protection, which was initially extended to her last year, when the alleged assassination plot against her became known.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 13 January 2021 | Permalink

Austria to press charges on man caught spying for Turkish intelligence service

Karl NehammerThere were angry exchanges between Austrian and Turkish officials on Tuesday, after the Austrian government announced it would press charges against an individual allegedly caught spying for Turkish intelligence. The charges were announced on Tuesday morning local time by Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (pictured), during a press conference in the Austrian capital Vienna.

During the press conference, Nehammer said the Austrian government wished to send “a clear message to the Turkish Republic: Turkish espionage and interference by Turkey in the civil liberties [of Austrian citizens] have no place in Austria”. Additionally, the Austrian official said his government would “work at the European level to make sure that Turkey does not interfere in the internal affairs of European Union states”. Vienna had already notified Horst Seehofer, president of the European Council, of the espionage case, said Nehammer.

It is believed that the alleged Turkish spy was uncovered by Austrian authorities after a large political protest that took place in Vienna last June, which resulted in violent clashes between pro-Kurdish and pro-Turkish demonstrators. The protesters were members of pro-Kurdish organizations in Vienna, but were confronted by pro-Turkish demonstrators, which resulted in the whole rally descending into violent street clashes. An investigation by Austrian police determined that many of the pro-Turkish demonstrators were affiliated with a far-right Turkish group known as the Grey Wolves.

According to the Austrian Interior Ministry, however, it was also found that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT, helped organize the Grey Wolves group that confronted the pro-Kurdish rally. Among the Grey Wolves rioters, say Austrian officials, was a man who had been “recruited” by the MİT to spy on pro-Kurdish activists or critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Nehammer said the alleged spy already confessed to working for Turkish intelligence.

In response to Nehammer’s statements, the Turkish government accused Austria’s national leadership of harboring an “anti-Turkey obsession”. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters in Ankara that the Austrian government should “top chasing artificial agenda with shallow and domestic political calculations over Turkey, and act with […] seriousness, common sense, and sincere cooperation”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 September 2020 | Permalink

Turkey arrests four members of alleged French spy ring in Istanbul

French consulate in Istanbul TurkeyFour men have been arrested by Turkish authorities in Istanbul, allegedly for being members of a spy ring operated by an agent who collected information on extremist groups for France’s external spy agency. The arrests were reported on Tuesday by a newspaper with close links to the Turkish government. It is worth noting, however, that the reports have not been confirmed by Turkish officials. If true, the incident points to further deterioration in the relations between the two nations, which are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Turkish daily newspaper Sabah said on Tuesday that the leader of the French-handled spy ring is named Metin Özdemir. He is reportedly a Turkish citizen who worked in the security department of the French consulate in Istanbul. According to the paper, Özdemir admitted to Turkish police that he was sent to France where he took an eight-month-long surveillance and counter-surveillance training course. He was then sent to Georgia by France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), where he gathered intelligence for his French handlers. In exchange for his services, the DGSE allegedly gave Özdemir regular cash payments and offered him a job in the French Foreign Legion.

Özdemir eventually returned to Turkey and was allegedly handled by two DGSE officials that he named as “Virginia” and “Sebastian”. He recruited three more Turkish citizens, including two utility workers, who formed a spy ring. The spy ring members were supplied by the DGSE with forged credentials, identifying them as employees of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT). According to Sabah, the spy ring supplied the DGSE with information on 120 individuals, most of whom were members of ultra-conservative religious organizations with alleged links to the Islamic State. The spy ring also allegedly spied on the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Turkey’s state-funded religious authority. Recently, however, Özdemir reportedly fell out with his French handlers and approached Turkish authorities, who promptly arrested him and the rest of the members of his spy ring.

The Sabah report comes just days after France filed a formal complaint with NATO, alleging that one of its warships was threatened in the open seas by a Turkish Navy vessel on June 10. According to French officials, the warship Courbet attempted to approach a Turkish Navy ship named Cirkin, which was believed to be smuggling weapons to Libya. The Turkish vessel refused to identify itself to the Courbet, which was inquiring on behalf of the NATO alliance. It also flashed its radar lights at the French ship, which is usually seen as a sign of impending confrontation, while its crew members were seen wearing bullet-proof vests and standing behind the ship’s mounted weapons. Turkey has denied the French allegations, but NATO said it will launch an investigation into the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 June 2020 | Permalink

News you may have missed #906

Gustavo ArribasTurkish court jails US consulate employee for terrorism offenses. A Turkish employee of the US consulate in Istanbul has been sentenced to almost nine years in prison, allegedly for aiding a terrorist organisation. Metin Topuz was arrested in 2017 and accused of having links to an “armed terror group” that Turkey blames for a failed coup the previous year. Topuz is reported to have spent decades working as a translator and fixer for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Istanbul. He denies the allegations. The US has said there is “no credible evidence” to support his conviction.

India arrests LeT female spy ring. India’s National Investigation Agency has busted an alleged female spy racket in the country and taken a 22-year-old Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) handler into 10-day custody. The female spy was allegedly in touch with many handlers in Pakistan, including 26/11 Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed. Sources also claimed that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence was honey-trapping Indian officials through the female spy, in order to gain sensitive information.

Illegal espionage claims put former Argentine president in spotlight. Argentina’s former president, Mauricio Macri, has found himself back in the national spotlight after the emergence of extraordinary claims alleging the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) –-headed at the time by his close ally Gustavo Arribas (pictured) during the former president’s 2015-2019 administration-– carried out illegal espionage more than 500 journalists, academics, politicians and business leaders. Prior to heading the federal intelligence agency, Arribas had no prior public service, having worked as a notary and a football agent. He is a close personal friend of Macri.

United States quietly scraps joint anti-terrorist intelligence project with Turkey

Incirlik TurkeyThe United States has indefinitely suspended a longstanding military intelligence-sharing program with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally Turkey. The program, which targets a Kurdish separatist group, is believed to have been in place since 2007. According to the Reuters news agency, which published the story on Wednesday, it has never before been reported on by news media.

The joint intelligence-sharing program targets the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant organization that campaigns for a separate homeland for Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Washington and Ankara have both designated the group a terrorist organization, and have been working jointly to combat it since at least 1997. According to Reuters, the United States military has been carrying out surveillance on the PKK using unmanned surveillance drones that fly out of Turkey’s Incirlik air base. Much of the surveillance focuses on the regions of Turkey that border with Iraq and Syria, where the PKK has a strong grassroots presence.

But Washington decided to suspend the program indefinitely last October, said Reuters. The decision was allegedly taken after Turkish troops invaded Syria in order to push back Kurdish rebels and establish a Kurdish-free buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. The news agency cited four American officials, who did not wish to identify themselves, “due to the sensitivity of the matter”. It also cited an unnamed Turkish official, who confirmed that the intelligence-collection program had been terminated.

The American officials told Reuters that the suspension of the program would place strains on the ability of the Turkish military to respond to the challenges of its ongoing guerrilla war against Kurdish militants in northern Syria, as well as within Turkey. It will also make “the anti-PKK campaign more […] costly for Turkey”, one of the officials told the news agency.

Reuters said it contacted the United States Department of Defense, but was told by a spokeswoman that the Pentagon would “not provide details on operational matters”. A spokesperson from the United States Department of State told Reuters that its representatives could “not comment on intelligence matters”. The Turkish Ministry of Defense did not return requests for comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 February 2020 | Permalink

In surprise move, Turkish and Syrian intelligence chiefs meet in Moscow

Turkey SyriaIn a move that surprised observers, the intelligence chiefs of Turkey and Syria —two bitter rivals in the ongoing Syrian civil war— met in Russia on Monday. The meeting was held in Moscow and was acknowledged by officials from both sides, making it the first explicit contact between Turkish and Syrian intelligence in over a decade.

The Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has openly called for the toppling of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. The Turkish strongman regularly refers to al-Assad as a “terrorist” and blames him for clandestinely supporting Kurdish paramilitaries, who have waged a war of secession against Ankara for several decades.

Regional dynamics shifted radically since early 2017, however, when the United States began withdrawing from the conflict. In the following months, Washington lifted its support for a collection of rebels fighting against the Syrian president. Last year, the US military left northern Syria and allowed Turkish troops to invade the region, with the aim of repelling armed Kurdish units from the Syrian-Turkish border.

Throughout this time, there have been rumors of intelligence coordination between Ankara and Damascus, but no official acknowledgement was ever issued. On Monday, however, Syria’s government-owned news agency, SANA, said that a meeting had taken place in Moscow between the heads of intelligence of Syria and Turkey. Shortly afterwards, a number of anonymous Turkish officials confirmed these reports to the Reuters news agency.

Reuters reported that the two sides discussed the state of the ceasefire in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, and future steps aimed at coordinating against the presence of armed Kurdish separatists in northern Syrian regions. It quoted one Turkish official who said that the two intelligence agencies were exploring “the possibility of working together” against separatist Kurdish groups on both sides of the Turkish-Syrian border.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 January 2020 | Permalink

Turkey offers to send troops to Libya as tensions rise with Greece, Egypt

Turkey LibyaTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said his country is prepared to deploy troops to Libya, just days after Ankara surprised analysts by announcing an agreement with the embattled Libyan government in Tripoli. The Turkish-Libyan agreement has spurred angry reactions from Israel, Greece and Egypt, all of which are competing with Turkey for control of newly discovered gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean seabed.

The Turkish-Libyan agreement merges the two countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and ostensibly prevents other players in the area, including Greece, Egypt, Israel and Cyprus, from drilling for natural gas without the consent of Ankara and Tripoli. However, according to Greece, the agreement disregards the presence of several Greek islands —including the largest one, Crete— in the Turkish-Libyan EEZ. Athens says that it views the Turkish-Libyan agreement as a direct claim against its territory. Last week the Greek government summarily expelled the Libyan ambassador from the country, marking a dramatic deterioration in the historically close relationship between Athens and Tripoli.

To further-complicate matters, several European countries, as well as Russia and the United States, do not support the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), with which Turkey has signed its agreement. Instead, they support the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, an old adversary of the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. Haftar lived in the United States under Washington’s protection for several decades before returning to Libya in 2011. The LNA, which is based in eastern Libya, is also supported by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other American allies in the Persian Gulf.

It follows that, if Turkey deploys troops to Libya, it may be entering a collision course with several of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies. Ankara’s move will also be confronted by Russia, which is purported to have troops in eastern Libya. On Tuesday, however, Turkish President Erdoğan seemed determined to proceed with his plan. In a speech at a university in Ankara, the Turkish leader proclaimed that, “if Libya were to make a request, we would send a sufficient number of troops”, adding that “there is no hurdle” to doing so “after the signing of the security agreement” between Ankara and Tripoli.

This is the first time that Turkey has secured an agreement with a regional ally in the matter of energy exploration rights. Previously, Greece, Israel, Egypt and Cyprus struck a deal to coordinate their gas exploration activities, and eventually supply Europe with Israeli and Cypriot natural gas via a projected gas pipeline that would pass through Greece. But the Turkish move raises doubts about the prospects of such a project, with some analysts even speculating whether centuries-old rivals Greece and Turkey may be getting closer to war.

In a speech on Monday, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos warned Ankara that “Greece will defend its borders [and] territory”. Meanwhile European Union leaders met on Monday behind closed doors to discuss the imposition of sanctions on Turkey as punishment for disputing the maritime territorial boundaries of Cyprus, a European Union member.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 11 December 2019 | Permalink

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