This was a blatant announcement of an assassination in the works. After the meeting, journalists asked Erdogan whether the target he had in mind might be Syrian Kurdish commander Mazloum Abdi. Erdogan responded: “Who would announce such actions? Did the United States arrive announced?”
Erdogan’s statement came amid widespread speculation that Ankara has been planning assassinations of dissidents abroad. It may have already carried out some killings — the most infamous being the assassination of three female members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who were shot in the head at the Kurdistan Information Bureau in central Paris in early 2013. Turkey regards the PKK as a terrorist organization (as does the United States).
According to one widely circulated interpretation, a faction within the Turkish state committed the Paris murders in order to sabotage peace negotiations then underway between the government and the PKK. Yet that is not the only possible scenario. Last May, despite Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization’s (MIT) denials of any involvement, France reopened the file that had been closed upon the alleged assassin’s death in prison. The prosecutors intend to investigate whether MIT was implicated.
Germany followed next. At the end of 2017, Garo Paylan, a Turkish lawmaker from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), shared a tip with the press: “A number of sources confirmed that a series of assassinations are planned, targeting Turkish citizens living abroad, particularly in Germany, and are branded as ‘traitors’ by the government.” German authorities had already been alerted to the arrival in the country of a three-man hit squad, he added.
At the time, I did some investigating that pointed to the source of the information: the interrogations of the two MIT operatives captured in northern Iraq by the PKK in August 2016.
The PKK had leaked this bit of intelligence, prompting dissident circles in Ankara to warn Berlin, which boosted close protection for targeted dissidents in Germany.
Last week, the Turkish authorities arrested a lawyer for the German Embassy in Ankara on espionage charges. According to Der Spiegel, the man was looking into cases of Turkish dissidents seeking asylum in Germany.
His job was to report to German authorities on whether the applicants were truly under threat in Turkey. After his arrest, the police raided his offices, seizing files on hundreds of dissidents, including supporters of the PKK and Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Islamist leader Erdogan regards as a mortal enemy.
Erdogan accuses Gulen and his followers of orchestrating the failed coup attempt in July 2016. Most of those suspected in orchestrating the coup fled to Germany. Erdogan has been pressing for their extradition ever since; the German authorities saw fit to issue an alert when they realized that Turkish intelligence had obtained information in the raid. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas protested to his Turkish counterpart at the Group of 20 meeting in Japan last week.
The foreign operations conducted by Turkish intelligence are no secret — quite the opposite, in fact. According to official figures announced by a government spokesman last year, since the 2016 coup attempt, MIT has “bundled up” and returned to Turkey a total of 80 Gulenists from 18 countries, including Azerbaijan, Gabon, Kosovo, Malaysia and Mongolia.
Last year, an international consortium of nine media organizations investigated the kidnapping program run by Turkish intelligence, including conducting interviews with a range of sources who attested to the existence of secret torture sites inside Turkey.
It looks as though MIT has initiated a series of new covert operations this year. Lawmaker Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, who has been investigating the matter, claims that those snatched were interrogated under torture and later silenced with the threat of death for speaking out. He says that their families are also under threat.
The rising number of abductions and the open acknowledgment of a policy of targeted killings all suggest that Erdogan is preparing to become even more aggressive in his treatment of his enemies abroad. He appears to need no pointers from Trump on this score.