Turkey’s Sabah daily on Monday published photos of 15 men that the newspaper alleges spied for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and were arrested by authorities earlier this month.
The photos appear to be mugshots of the men taken by Turkish authorities and are accompanied by initials claiming to represent their names. No further details were reported by the paper.
According to a Sabah report last week, the arrests took place on October 7, following a year-long National Intelligence Organization (MIT) operation involving some 200 Turkish intelligence officers who tracked down the alleged spies.
The suspects, said to be of Arab descent, operated in groups of three, the report said. Some had met with Mossad agents in Croatia and Switzerland, where information was exchanged. They had also received orders in the Romanian capital of Bucharest and Kenya’s Nairobi. The five groups had operated in different areas of the country, Sabah reported.
The chairman of the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Saturday said none of the 15 were Mossad agents. MK Ram Ben-Barak, a former deputy director of the Mossad, also suggested the Turkish government is eager to show its intelligence “achievements,” resulting in the occasional publication of false information. “None of the published names were [of] Israeli spies and therefore, it should be put in proportion,” he told Channel 12.
Sabah, which is close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Friday conducted an interview with one of the detainees, whom it identified only by his initials, M.A.S.
There has been no official confirmation from Turkey on the arrests and it was not clear how the paper interviewed the man if he had been arrested.
“I met face to face with a Mossad official. He taught me to encrypt files on the laptop,” M.A.S. told Sabah.
The man, who has a company that provided consulting services to students coming from abroad to Istanbul, told the paper that he had been tasked with monitoring Palestinians in Turkey. He said he had first been approached by a man claiming to represent an Arab person based in Germany who was interested in studying in Turkey.
The man was initially sent hundreds of euros for providing information on how Palestinian students entered Turkish universities and what kind of support they received from Turkish authorities.
He also later claimed to have provided the client with details on a Palestinian organization working in Turkey.
He said he had received some $10,000 in exchange for providing information over three years; some of the money was sent via Western Union, and some was given to him in an Istanbul market when he showed his ID and a receipt.
The main targets of the espionage operation were Palestinians in Turkey and facilities that hosted them, Sabah claimed.
According to the paper, MIT also uncovered how the operatives were paid, which included cryptocurrency payments and money transfers from jewelry and currency exchange stores.
A report last year claimed the Palestinian terror group Hamas was secretly operating a facility in Turkey where it conducted cyberattacks and counterintelligence operations against Israel.
The headquarters, which is separate from Hamas’s official offices in the city, was set up without the knowledge of Turkish authorities, the report said.
The British daily The Telegraph reported in 2020 that Turkey was granting citizenship to a dozen high-ranking Hamas members involved in coordinating terror attacks. The report was later confirmed by the chargé d’affaires at Israel’s embassy in Ankara.
Turkey sees Hamas as a legitimate political movement. The country has long maintained warm ties with Hamas, which have grown more overt as relations with Israel have chilled over the last decade. Israel has complained to Ankara about its ties to Hamas, but to no avail, according to the report.
In August 2020, Erdogan met with a Hamas delegation that included politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh and the terror group’s No. 2, Saleh al-Arouri — a top military commander who has a $5 million US bounty on his head. The meeting was harshly condemned by the US State Department at the time, but the Turkish foreign ministry rejected the criticism, accusing Washington of “serving Israel’s interests.”
Hamas and Erdogan’s AKP party are linked politically. Both have close ideological ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement.