Turkey Begins Espionage Investigation after Syria Leak
Ankara – Turkey has started an espionage investigation after a discussion between top officials on potential military action in Syria was leaked on YouTube, heralding a possible government crackdown on its political opponents after elections on Sunday. The recording of the meeting between Turkey’s intelligence chief, foreign minister and deputy head of the military was by far the most serious breach in weeks of highly sensitive leaks, a scandal which Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has cast as a plot to sabotage the state and topple him.
Erdogan and his aides have blamed the Hizmet movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally whose followers have influence in the police and judiciary, of running a “dirty campaign” of espionage to implicate him in corruption ahead of crucial nationwide municipal elections on Sunday. “Tomorrow we will teach those liars and slanderers a lesson,” Erdogan told a jubilant crowd of supporters in Istanbul’s working class Kartal district on Saturday, vowing his ruling AK Party would triumph at the polls.
Gulen has vociferously denied orchestrating the leak scandal, but those close to his network have said they fear a heavy crackdown once the local elections have passed. Police overnight briefly detained Onder Aytac, a prominent writer and journalist known to be close to the Hizmet movement, on suspicion of having information about the bugging of the foreign ministry meeting, the Hurriyet newspaper said.
CNN Turk meanwhile reported Erdogan’s lawyers asked prosecutors to take precautionary measures to stop both Aytac and Emre Uslu, a newspaper columnist, academic and former senior anti-terrorism police official, from fleeing abroad. Aytac said in a statement on the Hizmet-affiliated Samanyolu news website that he had been asked whether he was a spy and how he had known so much about the content of the leaked recording, after he discussed it on a television program.
“I made my assessment as an academic in that program. They are trying to intimidate people who think like me in this election process,” he said in the statement. Government officials declined to comment on whether an investigation into the leak had begun, saying any probe would be a matter for the judiciary. The state prosecutor’s office could not immediately be reached for comment. (Reuters)