Turkish counter-espionage against foreign spy networks leads to multiple arrests

Turkish counter-espionage against foreign spy networks leads to multiple arrests
A Turkish special forces police officer stands watch at a border outpost, in front of a section of the new Iran-Turkey border wall, Caldiran, Turkey, Sept. 27, 2021. (Getty Images)
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Updated 22 October 2021

Turkish counter-espionage against foreign spy networks leads to multiple arrests

Turkish counter-espionage against foreign spy networks leads to multiple arrests
  • Israeli, Russian and Iranian networks reportedly broken up after work by Turkish law enforcement
  • On Thursday, six suspects, including Russians, Ukrainians and Uzbeks, were jailed pending trial over an alleged plot against Chechen dissidents in Turkey

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. 


Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV

Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV
Updated 05 December 2021

Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV

Explosions heard inside US base in eastern Homs near Iraqi border — Syrian state TV

DUBAI: Syrian state television reported on Sunday that multiple explosions had been heard inside the US base in the Al-Tanf region in eastern Homs, near the Iraqi border.


Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity
Updated 05 December 2021

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Vatican meeting to discuss Document on Human Fraternity
  • The two discussed their vision of what the relationship between followers of religions should be
  • Last month, Sheikh Al-Tayeb met Pope Francis on the sidelines of the Religious Leaders on Climate Change summit

Cairo: Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, held a meeting in the Vatican with Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, to discuss how to implement the provisions of the Document on Human fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.

This joint statement, which was signed by Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Sheikh Al-Tayeb on Feb. 4, 2019, in Abu Dhabi, includes various proposed solutions from a religious standpoint to the current problems facing the world.

During the meeting Sheikh Al-Tayeb said that “the relationship of Al-Azhar and the Vatican remains an effective and real model for spreading tolerance and peace and combating extremism, hatred, wars and conflicts, and that the path of peace and dialogue is a difficult path, but the path is moving and making efforts,” adding that the world is in urgent need of the values of brotherhood, peaceful coexistence and respect for the other.

He stressed that religious leaders and scholars have a religious and societal duty to confront negative phenomena, especially with regard to moral aspects.

The two discussed their vision of what the relationship between followers of religions should be, and the role that religions should play in our contemporary world. The document seeks to activate dialogue about coexistence among human beings.

Ayuso said that the Grand Imam and His Holiness Pope Francis had the courage to fight battles for the good of humanity, and that the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity was not an easy thing.

But their persistence and sincerity helped to break barriers and repair broken bridges between some Muslims and Christians, and continued the dialogue between Al-Azhar and the Vatican after a rupture of nearly six years. They said they had begun to reap the fruits of this document in a rapprochement not only at the level of official institutions and institutes, but also between individuals among the wider masses.

Ayuso spoke about the great efforts of the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity that emerged from the document, noting that this committee includes religious and cultural leaders from different ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds around the world.

He said that even in their diversity the members of the committee represent a group of friends loyal to their humanity, united by their concern to work for mankind and end its suffering. They seek to replace hatred with love and intolerance with dialogue, especially between young people, to ensure healthy relations and a better future for coming generations.

Last month, Sheikh Al-Tayeb met Pope Francis on the sidelines of the Religious Leaders on Climate Change summit, where they said that returning to the teachings of religions is the way to save the world from extremism and division.


Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks

Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks
Updated 05 December 2021

Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks

Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks
  • Israel has been watching with concern as world powers sit down with Iran to jump-start talks on the tattered nuclear deal
  • Talks in Vienna aimed at re-imposing curbs on Iran’s nuclear program restarted last week after a more than five-month hiatus

TEL AVIV: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday urged world powers to take a hard line against Iran in negotiations to curb the country’s nuclear program, as his top defense and intelligence officials headed to Washington amid the flailing talks.
Israel has been watching with concern as world powers sit down with Iran to jump-start talks on the tattered nuclear deal. Iran last week struck its own hard line as talks resumed in Vienna, suggesting everything discussed in previous rounds of diplomacy could be renegotiated. Iran also isn’t slowing down the advances in its atomic program, further raising the stakes in the talks, which are crucial to cooling years of tensions boiling in the wider Mideast.
Talks in Vienna aimed at re-imposing curbs on Iran’s nuclear program restarted last week after a more than five-month hiatus.
Israel has long opposed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, saying it didn’t go far enough to halt the country’s nuclear program and doesn’t address Iran’s military involvement in countries bordering Israel.
“I call on every country negotiating with Iran in Vienna to take a strong line and make it clear to Iran that they cannot enrich uranium and negotiate at the same time,” Bennett told a meeting of his Cabinet. “Iran must begin to pay a price for its violations.”
Israel is not a party to the negotiations but it has made a point of keeping up lines of communication with its European and American allies during the talks, which are set to resume this week.
Israeli spy chief David Barnea headed to Washington late Saturday on a previously unannounced trip and Defense Minister Benny Gantz leaves Wednesday for meetings with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was in London and Paris last week to discuss the talks with Israel’s European allies.


Jordanian court jails five suspects for COVID-19 hospital deaths

Jordanian court jails five suspects for COVID-19 hospital deaths
Updated 25 min 59 sec ago

Jordanian court jails five suspects for COVID-19 hospital deaths

Jordanian court jails five suspects for COVID-19 hospital deaths
  • One of the convicts was the former director of the hospital Abdel Razak Al-Khashman
  • Ten COVID-19 patients died at the Al-Hussein New Salt Hospital on March 13 after the facility ran out of oxygen

AMMAN: A Jordanian court on Sunday sentenced five suspects to three years in prison each for their involvement in the oxygen outage that caused the death of 10 patients with coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the New Salt Hospital.

In its ruling, a copy of which was seen by Arab News, the court charged the five main suspects in the case, dubbed the “Salt medical tragedy,” with causing death, repeated 10 times, and imposed on each one of them a fine of JD3,575 ($5,056).

One of the convicts was the former director of the hospital Abdel Razak Al-Khashman.

The court declared eight other suspects in the case innocent and said that the five convicted defendants shall have the right to challenge the verdict at the specialized courts.

Ten COVID-19 patients died at the Al-Hussein New Salt Hospital on March 13 this year after the facility ran out of oxygen, sparking widespread anger in the kingdom and forcing Health Minister Nazir Obeidat to resign.

Hundreds of angry people gathered outside the hospital at the time, while the Salt town in the northwest of Amman saw nights of protests that prompted the intervention of security forces.  

King Abdullah of Jordan visited the hospital on March 13. In video footage online, he is visibly angry, shaking his head, gesticulating, and telling the hospital director: “How could such a thing happen? This is unacceptable.”

Relatives of the dead said the hospital had been suffering from a severe shortage of oxygen and medical staff. They called for the entire government to be held accountable.

With the case sparking public wrath across the kingdom, Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh apologized for the incident, saying, “What happened is a huge and flagrant mistake, unjustified and unacceptable. We cannot accept the death of a single Jordanian…The government alone assumes full responsibility for what happened.”


Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting

Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting
Updated 05 December 2021

Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting

Israeli police questioned on Palestinian attacker’s shooting
  • A widely circulated video shot by a bystander appeared to show an officer from Israel’s paramilitary Border Police shooting the attacker
  • Israel says its security forces make every effort to avoid harming civilians and that it investigates alleged abuses

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israel’s Justice Ministry said Sunday that two police officers were brought in for questioning following the shooting death of a Palestinian who had stabbed an Israeli man in east Jerusalem.
Israeli police released surveillance video in which the attacker can be seen Saturday stabbing the ultra-Orthodox Jewish man and then trying to stab a Border Police officer before being shot and falling to the ground. Police identified the attacker as a 25-year-old from Salfit, in the occupied West Bank. Police could later be seen carrying the body away on a stretcher.
A widely circulated video shot by a bystander appeared to show an officer from Israel’s paramilitary Border Police shooting the attacker when he was already lying on the ground, and another appeared to show police with guns drawn preventing medics from reaching him, prompting calls for an investigation into possible excessive use of force.
The shooting drew comparisons to a 2016 incident in which an Israeli soldier was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground.
The Justice Ministry’s police investigations unit said the police officers were questioned shortly after the incident and released without conditions.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett released a statement in support of the officers. Other leaders also defended their actions.
“It’s not clear if the terrorist maybe has an explosive belt. All sorts of things could happen,” Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who oversees the police, told Israeli Army Radio Sunday. “They acted correctly.”
The incident happened near Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem’s Old City, a tense and crowded area that is often the scene of demonstrations and clashes.
The Old City is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war along with the West Bank and Gaza. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and considers the entire city its capital. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, to include the West Bank and Gaza.
There have been dozens of attacks in recent years in and around the Old City, nearly all carried out by individual Palestinians with no known links to armed groups.
Palestinians and Israeli rights groups say security forces sometimes use excessive force in response to attacks, killing suspected assailants who could have been arrested or who posed no immediate threat to security forces.
Rights groups also say Israel rarely holds members of its security forces accountable for the deadly shootings of Palestinians. Investigations often end with no charges or lenient sentences, and in many cases witnesses are not summoned for questioning.
Israel says its security forces make every effort to avoid harming civilians and that it investigates alleged abuses.
In the widely publicized 2016 case, Israeli soldier Elor Azaria was caught on camera shooting a wounded Palestinian attacker who was lying on the ground. Azaria later served two-thirds of a 14-month sentence after being convicted of reckless manslaughter.
His case sharply divided Israelis. The military pushed for his prosecution, saying he violated its code of ethics, while many Israelis, particularly on the nationalist right, defended his actions.
In a more recent case, a Border Police officer was charged with reckless manslaughter in the deadly shooting of an autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City last year.
The indictment came just over a year after the shooting of Eyad Hallaq, whose family has criticized Israel’s investigation into the killing and called for much tougher charges. The shooting has drawn comparisons to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States.