ANKARA: Turkey has arrested a number of individuals believed to be involved in espionage activities on behalf of other nations, it has been revealed.
A wide-ranging operation by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization recently detained at least 15 people linked with Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, for allegedly carrying out activities on Turkish soil against Israeli dissidents and Palestinian students.
As part of an investigation by the Istanbul public prosecutor’s office, according to pro-government newspaper Sabah, interrogation of the detainees is underway after they were taken to a prison in Istanbul.
Conviction for espionage in Turkey carries a prison term of 15 to 20 years.
Around 200 people took part in the operation to apprehend the 15 detainees, surveilling them for over a year in secret, in what appears to have been one of the largest intelligence operations in Turkish history.
The 15 were discovered after Turkish counterterrorism forces held separate operations in four provinces; the spy network is thought to have had five separate cells of three people each spread across Turkey.
Members were allegedly in close contact with Mossad field officers, relaying information and documents through face-to-face meetings abroad, in Croatia, Romania, Kenya, and Switzerland.
The cells, supposedly paid tens of thousands of dollars and euros for their work, conducted research into various associations and companies in Turkey, as well as Palestinian students enrolled in Turkish universities on courses that could have practical use in relation to defense or terrorist activities, and sent this information back to Mossad.
Turkish intelligence believes several Palestinians reported missing since last month were part of the ring. A number of Syrians are also thought to have been involved.
Neither the Israeli or Turkish governments have commented on the reports.
Although ties between the two countries have been fragile over the years, with Turkish links to Hamas a particular sticking point, both countries’ presidents agreed on the need to improve bilateral ties after a phone call in July.
“Until some details of that operation were disclosed, Turkey was blamed for the … Palestinian people who went missing in the country. There were even some reports claiming that Turkey was handing over some Hamas members to improve ties with Israel. But, if these latest allegations prove true, it seems that some Palestinian people in Turkey were secretly working for the Mossad in its own operations,” one expert, who requested anonymity, told Arab News.
The Mossad ring was not the only espionage-related incident to occupy Turkish headlines in recent weeks.
On Thursday, six suspects, including Russians, Ukrainians and Uzbeks, were jailed pending trial over an alleged plot against Chechen dissidents in Turkey, held on charges of espionage and preparing armed actions targeting opposition figures in the country.
After being initially detained in the southern resort province of Antalya, they were transferred to Maltepe prison in Istanbul, a city home to several thousand Chechens.
Turkey also recently detained eight people, including two Iranian spies and six locals, over a plot to kidnap a former Iranian military official in the eastern province of Van, some 100 km from the border with Iran.
The operation to apprehend the eight came after Turkey briefly detained a member of the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul in February, in connection with a probe into the assassination of an Iranian dissident in Turkey two years ago.