Turkey has confirmed it arrested two UAE intelligence operatives in Istanbul on Monday, which senior officials say could be linked to last year's murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
According to Reuters, citing an unnamed official who made the arrest public on Friday, they “confessed to spying on Arab nationals on behalf of the United Arab Emirates,” after they were apprehended as part of a Turkish counter-intelligence investigation.
The probe into the spies' activities immediately spotlighted the Oct. 2 Khashoggi murder, given the well-known close ties between Saudi and UAE intelligence and military operations, and given the time of the operatives arriving in Turkey.
Reuters reports the following details:
One of the two men arrived in Turkey in October 2018, days after Khashoggi was murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, the official said, adding the other arrived to help his colleague with the workload.
“We are investigating whether the primary individual’s arrival in Turkey was related to the Jamal Khashoggi murder,” said the official, adding the person has been monitored for the past six months.
And offering another possibility, the senior Turkish official stated, “It is possible that there was an attempt to collect information about Arabs, including political dissidents, living in Turkey.”
In January of this year it was revealed that the UAE has been engaged in aggressive and invasive spying operations against its own citizens called 'Project Raven'. A prior Reuters investigation found it was even recruiting American former spies and NSA specialists in order to monitor Arab dissidents.
The story had involved Americans employed by the UAE who admitted to spying on "enemies" of the UAE monarchy including journalists, activists, and foreign governments, but who only had qualms about what they were doing when asked to monitor fellow Americans.
The Istanbul arrests of 2 intel operatives appear part of the UAE's more aggressive attempts to beef up operations abroad, especially in light of the following details:
Turkish officials seized an encrypted computer located in a hidden compartment at what the official told Reuters was the spy ring’s base.
The official, who requested anonymity, said statements by the detained men suggested their intelligence operation targeted political exiles and students.
Since the Khashoggi killing last year, Istanbul has been revealed to be a major hub of Gulf and regional espionage and counter-espionage, also considering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul had been bugged by Turkish intelligence, and that a large team of Saudi agents had conducted the assassination of the journalist, monitored going in and out of the country over days.