Turkey has arrested two alleged intelligence operatives who confessed to spying on Arab nationals on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, a senior Turkish official says.
Turkey is investigating whether the arrival of one of the detainees could be linked to the murder of prominent dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, the official, who requested anonymity, added on Friday.
One of the two men arrived in Turkey in October 2018, days after Khashoggi was killed inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul, the official said, adding that the other arrived to help his colleague with the workload.
Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a US resident, disappeared on October 2, 2018 after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documentation for his forthcoming marriage.
Saudi Arabia initially claimed that the US-based Washington Post columnist had left the consulate alive, but weeks later admitted that he was killed inside the diplomatic mission and blamed his death on a group of Saudi operatives.
The official said, “We are investigating whether the primary individual’s arrival in Turkey was related to the Jamal Khashoggi murder,” and added that the suspected man has been monitored for the past six months.
“It is possible that there was an attempt to collect information about Arabs, including political dissidents, living in Turkey.”
The suspects were arrested in Istanbul on Monday as part of a counter-intelligence investigation.
The official told Reuters that Turkish officials seized an encrypted computer located in a hidden compartment at the spy ring’s base.
The detainees’ statements suggested that their intelligence operation targeted political exiles and students, the official added.
Turkey has said Khashoggi was killed by a team of 15 Saudis who strangled him, and Ankara has repeatedly asked Riyadh to identify the local who allegedly helped them dispose of the body, which has not been found.
Speaking in an interview with the A-Haber television channel in February, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is working to carry the case of the murder of the journalist to an international court.
The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, said in March that Saudi Arabia’s so-called investigation into the murder of Khashoggi falls short of international standards.
Callamard, who is leading an international inquiry into the murder, called on the kingdom to reveal the defendants’ names and charges and the fate of 10 others initially arrested, denouncing what she called the lack of transparency of the kingdom’s investigation and legal proceedings.
In November, the kingdom’s Public Prosecutor indicted 11 unnamed suspects for the killing, which is believed to have been ordered by bin Salman.