ANKARA: Following a far-reaching operation, the Turkish intelligence agency (MIT) has captured Yusuf Nazik, the key plotter of the bloody bombing attack in Turkey’s southeastern border town of Reyhanli in May 2013. This attack claimed the lives of 53 people and devastated more than 900 houses and about 150 vehicles.
The operation was reportedly carried out with the cooperation of Turkish military forces, and was conducted in Latakia, a stronghold of the Assad regime.
The operation is considered the most successful overseas intelligence operation against a Turkish national over the recent years.
Anadolu Agency denied claims that the operation was carried out by the intelligence or logistics support of a foreign agency. The operation was conducted following a nine-month pursuit and a special team composed of 24 officials was responsible.
Nazik, who was brought to Turkey by MIT agents and interrogated, was marked in the blue category on the Turkish Interior Ministry’s wanted list.
In his interrogation, Nazik said the attack was ordered by someone codenamed “Hacı” under a Syrian military intelligence group known as the Mukhabarat.
He was living in Latakia, Syria, about 70 km away from the Turkish border, with a fake identity. According to his testimony, he was searching for alternative places to attack before the Reyhanli bombing and was bringing explosives from Syria to Turkey.
“All current evidence hints at the active role played by the Syrian regime in Reyhanli bomb attack because this person has been under the protection of the Assad regime so far. He was sheltered, provided with food and protected by the regime,” Dr. Eray Gucluer, a terror expert from Altinbas University in Istanbul, told Arab News.
Gucluer said the Assad regime might have tried to trigger sectarian conflict with this bomb attack by providing explosives from the nearby territories under its protection.
Reyhanli is a key town in providing aid and shelter for Syrian refugees fleeing civil war, as well as in supporting various opposition groups.
“The Turkish state may still trace back to the factories and the places where the explosives used in Reyhanli attack were manufactured, and if it concludes that the Syrian regime was behind this attack, many things will change,” Gucluer noted.
According to Gucluer, in that case Turkey’s relations with regional powers that support the Assad regime — chiefly Russia and Iran — will be mostly affected and Ankara will increase leverage over Tehran and Moscow about its relations with Assad.
While nine people were sentenced to life for the attack, eight suspects were being sought with an Interpol red notice.
Mihrac Ural, a Turkish national known as the leader of the Shabiha group known as the Syrian Resistance (Al Muqawamat Al-Suriyah), is also sought by Turkey for his involvement in the Reyhanli attack.
Ural, who now lives in Latakia, was also among the participants of the Syria congress in Sochi in February this year, leading Ankara to ask Moscow for an explanation and the extradition of Ural.
According to Oytun Orhan, a Syria expert at Ankara-based think-tank ORSAM, this operation is significant in that it shows how far Turkey’s intelligence operations can reach out.
“Turkey’s intel agency has recently improved its overseas operation capacity in order to remove the problems at their roots and to eliminate the leaders of the terror groups, wherever they are located,” he told Arab News.
MIT has also recently increased its operations in the Sinjar area of northern Iraq against the leaders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, whose high-ranking member, Ismail Ozden, responsible for northern Iraq, was killed in Aug. 15 with the cooperation of Turkish Armed Forces.
According to Orhan, reaching out to such a stronghold of the Assad regime in Syria was also meant to send a message to Russia amid the heated discussions over an impending large-scale military operation by the Syrian army into Idlib with the backing of Moscow.
“The province of Latakia is home to Khmeimim Air Base, currently operated by Russia. Ankara wants to remind Moscow and the Assad regime that Turkish intelligence and military forces can reach out to areas where they are supposed to have established authority,” he said.