Turkish authorities have reportedly arrested 11 people suspected of spying on Iranian targets for Israel.
According to a report Tuesday by the Daily Sabah, which is widely seen as supportive of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, authorities have identified 15 suspects, 11 of whom were arrested, who allegedly were part of a 23-member ring of operatives.
Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization and the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office suspect the 15 used a company that does business in Iran to gather intelligence for Israel’s Mossad spy agency, the newspaper reported.
Authorities are searching for two additional suspects.
The 18-month long investigation initially had focused on 23 individuals, according to Sabah, which said two of the suspects are Turkish citizens.
Unusually, the report included the name of a suspect alleged to be the ring’s leader: Selçuk Küçükkaya. A picture said to be of Küçükkaya shows a bearded, middle-aged man. Sabah said Mossad recruited Küçükkaya through an alleged member of the Gülen movement, an opposition network that Turkey has designated as a terrorist group.
Küçükkaya allegedly met with Mossad agents in Europe, who gave him five test assignments before recruiting him to establish a ring, follow people of interest and transmit to Mossad “the family members of the target persons, phone calls and signal information, bank accounts and assets,” the report said.
The report described the arrests as part of a broad counterintelligence effort directed not only at Israel, but also at thwarting Russian and Iranian operatives on Turkish soil.
Israel, which rarely comments publicly on Mossad actions, has not reacted to the allegations. The Sabah report did not specify the legal procedures pending in the case of the 11 suspects in custody.
Last year, Turkey also claimed to have broken up a Mossad ring and put 15 people on trial for espionage.
Turkish-Israeli relations, which had been robust both commercially and on security, soured after Erdogan came to power in the early 2000s and have since been through several up and downs. Ties have been recently been warming, with Jerusalem and Ankara agreeing to restore full diplomatic relations last year.
Erdoğan, head of the pro-Islam AKP party and widely seen in Turkey as a champion of the Palestinian cause, is running for reelection in the second round in Turkey’s presidential race on May 28. The runoff was scheduled after Erdoğan failed to obtain a 50% majority in the first round on May 14. He is running against opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.