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Turkey arrests Jordanian on suspicion of spying for UAE

Sources tell MEE Ahmed al-Astal posed as a Muslim Brotherhood supporter to spy on Arab dissidents
Turkish police officers patrol in front of Hagia Sophia on 11 July 2020 in Istanbul (AFP)
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Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey's intelligence agency has arrested a Jordanian national on accusation of spying for the United Arab Emirates.

Turkish intelligence sources told Middle East Eye that Ahmed al-Astal, 45, had been working as a journalist in Turkey, and had been sending information to his handlers on dissident Arab nationals and students.

The sources said that Astal, who is Palestinian, had been paid $2,700 per month for his activities, which included working for a number of Muslim Brotherhood-related organisations.

According to a summary of the National Intelligence Organisation's (MIT) findings, the UAE began to crackdown on Brotherhood supporters in 2012, prompting some of them to seek refuge in Turkey.

The summary said Astal, who was publicly a Brotherhood supporter, received an invitation to join them and informed his handlers, who also "encouraged and ordered him" to relocate to Turkey.

"Following his move to Turkey, the UAE agent concentrated on Turkey’s relations with the Muslim world, foreign policy initiatives, and domestic politics, together with the 15 July 2016 coup attempt and the likelihood of another coup attempt," said the summary.

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"He also identified and passed information to the UAE about Turkey-based Arab journalists and dissidents, who may be vulnerable to recruitment efforts by the Emirati intelligence."

Astal told Turkish authorities that he had been compelled to work for Emirati intelligence because he feared that he would otherwise be unemployed and forced to return to Jordan.

According to the Washington Post, friends and family said Astal lived on the Black Sea coast and had disappeared in late September. His brother Hussam al-Astal, who lives in the Gaza Strip, said in an interview that he was not aware of the arrest and did not believe Ahmed was a spy or was connected to the UAE.

Turkey also arrested two men last year on suspicion of spying on Arab nationals for the UAE.

One of the two suspects later committed suicide in prison, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Numerous Arab dissidents have made Istanbul their home, particularly in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

In 2018, Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate by a hit squad sent from Riyadh.

Tensions between Turkey and the UAE have increased in recent years, particularly over a number of theatres of conflict such as Libya, where the two countries back opposite sides.