A Turkish court has arrested Ahmed al-Astal, a Jordanian citizen who was recently detained by Turkish intelligence officers and counterterrorism police over alleged spying for the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the state-run TRT Haber reported on Wednesday.
Al-Astal, who was reportedly accused of “obtaining and disclosing information that should remain confidential in terms of the security of the state, domestic or foreign political benefits for the purpose of political or military espionage,” was arrested as part of a probe launched by the Sakarya Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Although it is not clear how Al-Astal came to the attention of Turkish intelligence, a Turkish official told The Washington Post that he was on the run for a few weeks before he was captured.
According to TRT Haber, the 45-year-old Al-Astal, originally from Palestine, traveled to Turkey using a non-UAE passport and has infiltrated Arab dissident and journalist networks since 2013.
Working as a journalist in Turkey, Al-Astal, reportedly known to his Emirati handlers as Abu Layla, monitored Arab dissidents and gathered information on Turkey’s relations with the Muslim world, foreign policy initiatives and domestic politics for seven years.
The Turkish authorities had obtained a “trove of documents” proving Al-Astal’s links to the UAE, Reuters reported last week, citing a Turkish official.
According to a report by The Washington Post, the findings of Turkish intelligence in the case include information suggesting that Al-Astal had been coerced into espionage more than a decade ago, after initially refusing an offer to work for Emirati intelligence in 2008.
The findings of Turkish intelligence further indicate that Astal’s handlers paid him approximately $400,000 over the period he was in their employ after they initially threatened his livelihood over it.
They also reveal he was tasked with establishing whether Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government was defenseless against another coup after a failed attempt claimed the lives of 251 people and left around 2,200 others injured on July 15, 2016.
Al-Astal also passed information to the UAE about Turkish-based Arab journalists and dissidents who might be vulnerable to recruitment efforts by Emirati intelligence, according to the findings.
Al-Astal is the third suspect Turkey has arrested over spying for the UAE in the past two years. According to local media reports, Turkey in April 2019 arrested two men who were said to be collecting information on Palestinian factions in Turkey.
Reuters reported that one of the men was connected to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate general in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. The killing, carried out by a team of Saudi operatives, of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, drew a global outcry.
The other suspect, Zaki Hasan, died while in custody in what the Turkish government called an apparent suicide, according to the prosecutor’s office.