Turkey has arrested four of its nationals on suspicion of spying for France on conservative and religious groups, AFP reported, citing local sources.
The news came as tensions between the two NATO members have increased over their different positions on Libya and a recent incident between their naval warships in the Mediterranean.
According to the pro-government Sabah daily, Metin Özdemir, a former employee of the French consulate’s security service, told police he had gathered intelligence for the French intelligence service, the DGSE.
Özdemir told police he had delivered information on 120 people, including imams, in return for monthly payments and the promise of a place in the French Foreign Legion, the paper reported.
Passing himself off as a member of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), he says he recruited three men: an employee of an Istanbul water company, a telecommunications worker and the manager of an İstanbul hotel.
The spy cell was put to work gathering information on conservative associations, religious groups and the Diyanet, the public body that supervises religious affairs, Sabah reported.
After falling out with his French handlers Özdemir approached the Turkish authorities, it added. The four men were arrested and will face trial at an unspecified time.
There has been no independent confirmation of Sabah’s story, but it has emerged at a time when relations between France and Turkey are particularly strained.
Turkey, which backs the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli in the ongoing conflict in Libya, has repeatedly accused France of favoring GNA rival Khalifa Haftar, although Paris has denied this.
The two nations had a heated exchange last week after a naval incident in the Mediterranean in which France accused Turkish frigates of “extremely aggressive” behavior toward a French ship.
Turkey denied the accusation, saying the French vessel was at fault, and NATO has opened an investigation into the incident.