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

Turkey arrests German embassy lawyer on espionage charges

Germany Embassy TurkeyTurkish authorities have charged a lawyer working for the German embassy in Ankara with espionage, further-straining the already tense relationship between the two North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which reported on the arrest, did not name the lawyer, but said he is a Turkish citizen and was arrested in September.

The newsmagazine said the lawyer had been hired by the German embassy to obtain information about Turkish citizens who had applied for political asylum in Germany. German authorities would regularly give the lawyer identifying information about asylum applicants. The lawyer would then verify with Turkish police that the applicants had a blank criminal record and were not wanted for participation in criminal activity. The German embassy would then forward the information collected by the lawyer to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (known in Germany as BAMF), which would subsequently approve or reject the asylum applications.

Following the lawyer’s arrest by the Turkish National Intelligence Service (MİT), German authorities are concerned that the Turkish government has seized identifying information on at least 50 Turkish applicants for political asylum in Germany. Some of these applicants are reportedly members of Turkey’s persecuted Kurdish minority. Others are alleged supporters of Fethullah Gülen a United States-based former political ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who Turkey accuses of having orchestrated the failed 2016 military coup against Erdoğan.

The German Foreign Office has described the lawyer’s arrest as “incomprehensible” and has reportedly warned those asylum seekers affected by it that their safety may be endangered. Meanwhile, German diplomats are engaged in high-level talks with the Turkish government to secure the lawyer’s release, according to Spiegel. The effort is being led by no other than Martin Erdmann, a veteran diplomat who is serving as Germany’s ambassador to Turkey.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 November 2019 | Permalink

Turks feared Russia might bomb Erdoğan’s palace in 2015, intelligence memo shows

Hmeimim AirbaseAuthorities in Turkey were concerned that Russia might bomb the presidential palace in Ankara in 2015, to retaliate against the downing of a Russian fighter jet by the Turkish military, according to an intelligence report. On November 25 of that year, a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M attack bomber was shot down by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet over the Syrian-Turkish border. Ankara claimed that the Russian aircraft had violated Turkish airspace for longer than five minutes and had failed to respond to 10 warning messages communicated by radio. By the time the Russian plane was fired upon it was nearly 1.5 miles inside Turkish airspace, according to Turkey’s Ministry of Defense. But the Kremlin claimed that the downed aircraft had been flying a mile south of the Turkish border when it was shot down.

A few hours after the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin described it as “a stab in the back by terrorist accomplices” and warned Ankara that Moscow would not tolerate such attacks on its armed forces. International observers expressed concern about a possible armed retaliation by Russia against the Turkish military. Now a formerly classified intelligence report suggests that Turkish authorities were concerned that Russia might bomb the country’s presidential palace in Ankara. The report was unearthed by the Nordic Research Monitoring Network (NRMN), a security-oriented research initiative staffed by Turkish experts who live in Europe and the United States.

The NRMN said the previously classified report was authored by Signals Intelligence Directorate of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known as MİT. It describes an intercepted conversation that took place on December 3, 2015. The conversation involved a Syrian military officer, who was believed to be a brigadier general in the army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The officer, identified in the document only as Adnan, was reportedly speaking with an unnamed Russian general, identified only as Sergei, and another unidentified senior officer in the Syrian armed forces. The discussion concerned an upcoming meeting between Syrian and Russian military officials at the Hmeimim Airbase, a Russian-operated military installation on the outskirts of Latakia.

The purpose of the meeting was for the Russian forces to officially notify the Syrians that their warplanes would be carrying a heavier payload in the future, and to explain why. At one point in the conversation the Russian general told the Syrians that part of the heavier payload would consist of “barrel bombs [that] will go to Erdoğan’s palace”. The MİT interpreted that to mean the Turkish Presidential Complex, which is located inside the Atatürk Forest Farm in the Beştepe neighborhood of Ankara. The ensuing intelligence report contains handwritten notes indicating that the information contained in it was communicated to the leadership of the Turkish Armed Forces and the Turkish General Staff.

At the end no attack took place. In June of the following year President Erdoğan sent a letter to his Russian counterpart, in which he expressed his condolences for the family of the Russian pilots who were killed when their aircraft was shot down. Following the July 2016 coup, the two Turkish pilots who had shot down the Russian aircraft were arrested on suspicion of being involved in the attempt to topple Erdoğan. This, in association with the Turkish president’s letter of sympathy, were seen by Moscow as goodwill gestures from Ankara. Relations between the two countries were eventually restored.

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

Turkey’s arrest of al-Baghdadi’s sister is ‘intelligence goldmine’ says official

Rasmiya AwadA Turkish government official has described the arrest of the sister of the late Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as “an intelligence goldmine”. The official was referring to the arrest of Rasmiya Awad, an Iraqi citizen, who was reportedly arrested on Monday. Little is known about al-Baghdadi’s sister. She is believed to have been born in 1954, which makes her 65 years old this year.

Awad was arrested during a raid by the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army at a makeshift refugee camp in the suburbs of Azaz, a city of 30,000 located approximately 20 miles northwest of Aleppo. The Aleppo province in northwestern Syria has been under Turkish military control since 2016. Since then, the Turkish military command has relied on the Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army and a selection of smaller pro-Turkish militia to control the region.

The Associated Press reported that Awad was detained along with her family, including her husband, her daughter-in-law, and her five children. Five other adults were arrested in the vicinity of the refugee camp, all of them Iraqi citizens, but there is no word yet on whether they are in any way connected with the Islamic State. Turkish officials told the Associated Press yesterday that Awad, her husband and her daughter-in-law were being interrogated.

The news agency quoted one Turkish government official as saying that Awad’s capture was “an intelligence goldmine. What she knows about [the Islamic State] can significantly expand our understanding of the group and help us catch more bad guys”, the official is reported to have told the Associated Press.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 November 2019 | Permalink

Analysis: ISIS leader’s hideout in Turkish-controlled part of Syria raises questions

Turkey SyriaIn 2011, the discovery of Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad raised questions about Pakistan’s knowledge of his whereabouts. Today it is hardly controversial to suggest that at least some elements in the Pakistani government must have been aware of bin Laden’s location. Last week’s discovery of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a region of Syria controlled by Turkey inevitably raises similar questions about Ankara’s role in the Syrian conflict and its relationship with the Islamic State.

The self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State was found hiding in Barisha, a village in the Syrian province of Idlib, which is located just two miles from the Turkish border. The region that surrounds Barisha is under the control of Turkey and can most accurately be described as a Turkish protectorate inside Syria. The area north of Barisha has been under Turkish control since August of 2016, when Ankara launched Operation Euphrates Shield, a cross-border operation conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces in cooperation with Turkish-baked militias in Syria. In early 2018, Turkish and pro-Turkish forces extended their territorial control further south, capturing Barisha and all surrounding regions. They remain in control of the area to this day.

Turkish-occupied northern Syria is often described as a “proto-state”. It is governed by a collection of local councils of Turkmens and Arabs, with some Kurds and Yazidis also present. These councils elect representatives to the self-proclaimed Syrian Interim Government, which was formed in Turkey by Turkish-backed Syrian exiles and is currently headquartered in Azaz, an Arab-majority city of 30,000 that is under direct Turkish military control. Azaz is also the headquarters of the Turkish-backed “Free Police”, a gendarmerie-style militia that is funded, trained and equipped by the Turkish government.

In addition to the Turkish troops, the region is controlled by the Turkish-funded Syrian National Army. The 25,000 troops of the SNA —which is jokingly referred to by the locals as the “Turkish Syrian National Army”— operate completely under Turkish command. A substantial portion of the SNA’s force consists of former Islamic State fighters who switched their allegiance to the SNA once they saw the writing on the wall. Others are former members of the group that used to call itself Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has become the most powerful Salafi-jihadist force in Syria after the demise of the Islamic State.

Turkish-occupied northern Syria is also the base of Ahrar al-Sham, a Salafi-jihadist group consisting of over 20,000 fighters, which is not officially aligned with al-Qaeda, but has similar goals. Since at least 2017, Ahrar al-Sham has effectively operated as a Turkish proxy militia and is in charge of dozens of check points and observation posts throughout the region. Lastly, the area is home to Hurras al-Din, yet another Salafi-jihadist group that is affiliated with al-Qaeda —though its leaders deny it. The group is able to operate in Turkish-controlled areas of Syria with suspicious ease. It was this group, Hurras al-Din, that sheltered al-Baghdadi in Barisha in return for cash.

Given Turkey’s military and political control of Idlib province, the question arises of how the world’s most high-profile terrorist leader was able to enter the region and receive protection from a militia that operates there under the watchful eye of the Turkish military. The New York Times reports that al-Baghdadi had been living in Barisha for several months before last week’s raid, and that Washington had been aware of his hideout location since the summer. Was Turkish intelligence also aware of the Islamic State leader’s whereabouts? If not, how could that be? If yes, why did it take a Kurdish spy, handled by Syrian Kurdish intelligence, to locate him and provide information to the Untited States? More importantly, what exactly is the relationship between Turkey and the al-Qaeda-linked Islamists who seem to operate freely in Idlib and provide protection to senior Islamic State officials in exchange for cash?

There are clearly more questions than answers here. If the United States is serious about combating Islamist extremism in the Middle East, it must press Ankara on these questions as a matter of urgency.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 October 2019 | Permalink

Trump thought Erdoğan was “bluffing” about invading Syria, sources claim

Turkey SyriaSenior White House officials close to United States President Donald Trump believed that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was bluffing when he threatened to invade northern Syria, according to sources. For over two years, most of northern Syria has been controlled by American-supported Kurdish militias, who were instrumental in helping Washington defeat the Islamic State. But the growing strength of the Kurdish forces alarmed Turkey, which views Kurdish nationalism as a bigger threat than the Islamic State.

Since 2016, Ankara repeatedly threatened to invade northern Syria and disarm the Kurdish groups, which it sees as terrorist. It had refrained from doing so due to the presence of American troops in the area. However, according to news website Axios, key officials in the Trump White House were convinced that Turkish President Erdoğan would not have his troops invade northern Syria even if the American forces pulled out. In making this claim, the website cites six unnamed sources “with direct knowledge of the situation”, some of whom were allegedly “in the room with the two leaders and had access to their phone calls going back several years.

In one of these phone calls, which took place in 2017, President Erdoğan allegedly informed the US leader of his government’s intention to “move in to take care of the Kurdish threat” in northern Syria. But President Trump cautioned him about making such a daring move. He reminded the Turkish leader that, by invading northern Syria, Turkey would become responsible for the tens of thousands of Islamic State supporters and their families who are kept in detention camps. Ankara would also face mass international condemnation and possible sanctions from the United States and Europe. Moreover, the US-trained and -supplied Kurdish forces would arguably create a military quagmire for Turkish troops in the region. At that point Turkey “would own” the problem and would not be able to “come to [the US] for help”, according to Trump.

The Axios report claims that, until last week, the White House thought that “Erdoğan would never actually go through with his long-threatened Syria invasion”, because doing so would be detrimental to Turkish interests in the region. Based on that conviction, President Trump finally decided to call Erdoğan’s bluff by pulling American Special Forces troops out of northern Syria, in the belief that Tukey’s response would amount to nothing further than a few airstrikes and small-scale cross-border incursions. That belief was behind the White House’s surprise decision to suddenly pull its troops from northern Syria, according to Axios’ sources.

The report did not mention whether the US Intelligence Community’s reports to the White House concurred with the US President’s conviction that Turkey would not invade northern Syria even in the absence of US troops. The question is, in other words, did Trump made up his mind about Erdoğan’s intentions to invade northern Syria because, or despite the conclusions of his own Intelligence Community?

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 15 October 2019 | Permalink

Concerns about mass breakouts of jailed ISIS fighters if Turkey invades northern Syria

Turkey ISISOfficials in the United States, Europe and the Middle East have warned that thousands of jailed members of the Islamic State could escape from Kurdish-controlled prisons in northern Syria if Turkey invades the region. For more than two years, the area has been controlled by American-supported Kurdish militias, who were instrumental in helping Washington defeat the Islamic State —also known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. But the growing strength of the Kurdish forces has alarmed Turkey, which views Kurdish nationalism in the region as a bigger threat than Salafi jihadism. Ankara has repeatedly threatened to invade northern Syria and disarm the Kurdish groups, which it sees as terrorist.

The continuous presence of American troops in northern Syria has served to dissuade Turkey from invading. Yesterday, however, the White House surprised observers by announcing its sudden decision to pull its troops from northern Syria. Washington’s unexpected move drew criticism from Kurdish commanders who spoke of betrayal, as well as by members of both political parties in Congress. Security officials also expressed fears that Turkey’s focus on the Kurds could allow ISIS to regroup in northern Syria. A statement issued by the White House on Monday said that Turkey would assume control of over 10,000 captured ISIS fighters who are currently being held in Kurdish-administered prison camps in northern Syria. But experts said that the wider Kurdish-controlled region of northern Syria, which Turkey intends to capture, is home to dozens of prisons with over 60,000 captured ISIS supporters in them. What will be the fate of these prisoners under Turkish control?

Security observers have repeatedly accused Turkey in the past of turning a blind eye to ISIS, whose members fought a prolonged and bloody war against Iraqi and Syrian Kurds from 2016 to 2018. There are no guarantees that the Turks will not utilize a resurgent ISIS to suppress Kurdish nationalism in the region. In fact, some experts, including retired American generals, warned on Monday that a Turkish invasion of northern Syria would give ISIS “a golden chance to regroup”. There are concerns of mass breakouts of ISIS members from Kurdish-controlled prisons in Syria, amidst the widespread chaos caused by a Turkish military onslaught. Such breakouts have been encouraged by ISIS leaders, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself. Escaped prisoners would most likely join the nearly 20,000 estimated ISIS fighters who are still at large in Iraq and Syria, thus contributing to a potentially catastrophic regeneration of the militant Sunni group, according to experts.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 08 October 2019 | Permalink

Turkish spy agency develops phone app to help ex-pats inform on dissidents

BfV GermanyTurkey’s spy agency has developed a smart phone application to enable pro-government Turks living in Germany inform on their compatriots who speak out against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The existence of the phone application was revealed in the annual report of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s primary counterintelligence agency. The report covers terrorist and foreign intelligence activity that took place in 2018 in Baden-Württemberg, a state in southwest Germany that borders Switzerland and France. Deutsche Welle, Germany’s state broadcaster, which cited the BfV report, said that 2018 saw a significant increase in intelligence activities by several countries, including China, Russia, Iran and Turkey. Much of the intelligence activity by Turkish spy agencies concentrated on the Turkish expatriate community in Baden-Württemberg. The federal state is home to approximately 15 percent of Germany’s 3-million-strong Turkish population.

According to the BfV report, Turkish intelligence operations in Baden-Württemberg have focused primarily on two groups since 2015. One group consists of supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed separatist group that fights for the independence of Turkey’s Kurdish population. A ceasefire between the PKK and the Turkish government collapsed in 2015, leading to the outbreak of a low-intensity war in Turkey’s southeastern regions, which is ongoing. The other group consists of sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic scholar who is seen by the government of Turkey as the primary instigator of a coup that unsuccessfully tried to unseat the AKP in July 2016. The BfV report also states that pro-government Turks living in Germany are known to use a smart phone application developed by Turkey’s police force, the General Directorate of Security (EGM). The application allegedly enables supporters of the AKP to inform on suspected members of the PKK or followers of Gülen who live in Germany. These individuals are then questioned or even apprehended when they travel to Turkey to visit family members and friends.

The report also names several Turkish pro-AKP organizations that allegedly operate as intelligence collectors for a host of Turkish spy agencies. Among them are civic groups like the Union of International Democrats, or religious organizations like the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs. Known as DİTİB, the organization administers the activities of several hundred Turkish Muslim organizations and mosques throughout Germany and is believed to be closely associated with the AKP and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Several German intelligence officials and reports have claimed in recent years that the DİTİB operates as an intelligence collection arm of the Turkish state in Germany.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 10 June 2019 | Permalink

Family of alleged UAE spy who died in Turkish prison call for investigation

Zaki Mubarak Hassan and Samer ShabanThe family of a man who died in a Turkish prison on Sunday while awaiting trial for allegedly spying for the United Arab Emirates has called for an international investigation into this death. Zaki Mubarak Hassan and Samer Shaban —both Palestinians— were reportedly arrested by Turkish police on April 21 and charged with espionage. Turkish counterintelligence officials suspect that at least one of the suspects may have been involved in a spy operation that relates to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was killed last October inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul by a 15-member team of Saudi intelligence officers.

Shortly after the two men were arrested, the Reuters news agency cited an anonymous “senior Turkish official” who said that one of two men arrived in Turkey just days after Khashoggi’s murder. He was allegedly monitored by Turkish counterintelligence for a period of six months and his activities led investigators to the second man. The latter is believed to have traveled to Turkey in order “to help his colleague with the workload”, said Reuters. The source added that the two UAE nationals had undergone several hours of interrogation, during which they had confessed that they were employees of the UAE intelligence service. They had also admitted to recruiting local residents as informants. Their activities and targets were consistent with intelligence operations aimed at exiled Arab nationals and students living in Turkey, said the source. The unnamed Turkish official told Reuters that authorities had amassed “extensive evidence” on “covert activities on Turkish soil” by the two men, and described the case against them as “airtight”.

Yesterday, however, the Turkish government announced that one of the men, Zaki Mubarak Hassan, had been found dead in his prison cell in Istanbul. Press reports said that Hassan was found “Sunday morning hanging from a bathroom door” in his cell, and that prosecutors were investigating the formal cause of his death. Late on Monday, his family told the Saudi Arabian Arab News channel that they did not believe Hassan had killed himself. Speaking to Arab News from his home in Bulgaria, Hassan’s brother, Zakeria, said that agents of the Turkish government killed his brother because they realized he was not a spy for the UAE and “they didn’t want to show that they made a mistake”. He added that he had notified the Palestinian ambassador in Ankara of his brother’s arrest, but the ambassador did not seem interested in assisting the family. Meanwhile, the uncle of the second man, Samer Shaban, told another Saudi news channel, Al Arabiya, that his nephew had left the Gaza Strip in 2007 for Egypt. Zaki Mubarak said that Shaban, a Palestinian police officer, was a Fatah supporter and eventually moved from the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip to the UAE, where he began working as an employee of the Palestinian Authority’s consulate in Dubai. His goal, said Mubarak, was to immigrate with his family to Turkey and from there to Europe.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 30 April 2019 | Permalink

Turkey announces arrests of two alleged UAE intelligence officers in Istanbul

UAE nationals arrested in Turkey on espionage charges

Covert surveillance photograph of two UAE nationals arrested in Turkey on espionage charges (TRT Haber)

Turkish authorities have announced the arrest of two men believed to be intelligence officers for the United Arab Emirates; the two have already confessed to recruiting local informants, according to Reuters. The news agency said Turkish counterintelligence officials suspect that at least one of the suspects may be involved in a spy operation that relates to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was killed last October inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul by a 15-member team of Saudi intelligence officers.

Last Friday, Reuters cited an anonymous “senior Turkish official” who said that both men are Emirati nationals and that one of them arrived in Turkey just days after Khashoggi’s murder. He was allegedly monitored by Turkish counterintelligence for a period of six months and his activities led investigators to the second man. The latter is believed to have traveled to Turkey in order “to help his colleague with the workload”, said Reuters. Turkey’s state-owned news agency, TRT Haber, published Turkish police photographs of the two men in custody, but did not name them. It also published covert surveillance photographs of the two men, presumably taken by Turkish counterintelligence. A source told Reuters that Turkish counterintelligence officials had entered an Istanbul apartment used by the two men as a safe house, where they found an encrypted computer “in a hidden compartment”. The source added that the two UAE nationals had undergone several hours of interrogation, during which they had confessed that they were employees of the UAE intelligence service. They had also admitted to recruiting local residents as informants. Their activities and targets were consistent with intelligence operations aimed at exiled Arab nationals and students living in Turkey, said the source.

The unnamed Turkish official told Reuters that authorities had amassed “extensive evidence” on “covert activities on Turkish soil” by the two men, and described the case against them as “airtight”. However, when contacted by Reuters, Turkey’s Ministry of Interior declined to comment on the arrests. A spokesman for Istanbul’s Police Department confirmed that a police operation against the two Emirati nationals was ongoing. Turkish media reports on Saturday said that the two men had appeared before a court in Istanbul and that they were being kept in custody on charges of espionage against the Turkish state.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 April 2019 | Permalink