Four men were arrested by Turkish authorities in Istanbul, believed to be members of an espionage cell run by an agent who collected information on extremist groups in favor of French intelligence.
The arrests were reported Tuesday by a newspaper linked to the Turkish government. However, the news of the arrests has not been confirmed by Turkish officials. If the arrest was confirmed, a short circuit would arise between two NATO countries.
Il Turkish newspaper Sabah revealed the name of the agent in the pay of France, it is called Metin Özdemir. He is reportedly a Turkish citizen who worked in the security department of the French consulate in Istanbul. According to the newspaper, Özdemir admitted to the Turkish police that he had been sent to France, where he followed an eight-month training course on security techniques. He was then sent to Georgia by France's Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE), where he collected information for his transalpine principals.
In exchange for his services, the DGSE would pay Özdemir by also offering him a job in the French Foreign Legion.
Özdemir returned to Turkey where he was allegedly managed by two DGSE officials, such as "Virginia" and "Sebastian". Özdemir then recruited three other Turkish citizens. All members of this new partnership had false credentials from the DGSE which identified them as employees of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT).
According to the Sabah newspaper, the Turkish cell allegedly provided the DGSE with information on 120 individuals, most of whom were members of ultra-conservative religious organizations with alleged ties to the Islamic state. The cell also spied on the direction of religious affairs, the state-funded religious authority of Turkey. Recently, however, Özdemir had moved away from the French, approaching the Turkish authorities who in response arrested him together with the men of his cell.
The Sabah report comes a few days after France made a formal complaint to NATO, claiming that one of its warships had been threatened in the open sea by a Turkish Navy ship on June 10 last. According to French officials, the warship Courbet attempted to approach a Turkish navy ship, Cirkin, suspected of smuggling weapons into Libya. The Turkish ship refused to identify with the Courbet, which was investigating on behalf of NATO. The Turkish ship had also activated the radar lights on the French ship, indicating that she was ready to launch an attack, while the crew members put on the bulletproof vests and positioned themselves behind the weapons mounted on the Turkish ship. Turkey has denied the French charges, but NATO has said it will launch an investigation into the accident.