Ankara has announced it arrested an Iranian agent and seven Turks Sept. 24 over an alleged plot to abduct an ex-Iranian military official and render him to Iran.
Turkey's official news agency Anadolu (Anatolia) reportedthat the country's National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and police had made the arrests in Van, a city in south-east Turkey 100km, or an hour’s drive, from the Iranian border.
Anadolu said the spying network had offered the military official's wife $10,000 to help nab her husband − who it identified only by the initials, M. A. − and threatened that her family in Iran would be harmed if she did not cooperate.
Turkish intelligence and police had caught two of the spies, an Iranian identified as S.S. and a Turkish citizen identified as M.E.A.,"red-handed" while attempting to enter the victim's residence, Anadolu said. Six other Turkish nationals were later detained, the agency continued, with MIT suggesting the network had a budget of $30,000 for the operation.
Iranian officials have not commented, even on the arrest of the Iranian.
Iran and Turkey had bilateral trade in 2020 of over $4 billion despite a fall with the coronavirus pandemic but relations have soured recently over Turkey's close ally Azerbaijan's arrest of two Iranian truck drivers and its restriction of Iranian access to Armenia along roads captured from Armenian forces last year.
Baku freed the drivers Wednesday a day after Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian spoke by phone with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Jeyhun Bayramov. But tensions linger over recent Turkey-Azerbaijan-Pakistan military drills on one side of the border, with Iranian maneuvers on the other.
Tehran was alarmed at reports last year that Turkey brought in armed Sunni militants from Syria to fight alongside Azerbaijani troops against Armenia and remains concerned at Baku’s relationship with Israel.
Turkey in February arrested a staff member of Iran's consulate in Istanbul, Mohammad-Reza Naserzadeh, in connection with the killing of former Iranian defense official Masoud Molavi-Vardanjani in Istanbul in November 2019.
Naserzadeh was accused of forging travel documents for another Iranian, Ali Esfanjani, the alleged mastermind of the assassination, and helping him flee to Iran three days after Molavi-Vardanjani was shot dead. After Iranian officials denied that any diplomatic staff had been arrested, Anadolu aired footage from Istanbul airport it said showed Naserzadeh's arrest.
Molavi-Vardanjani had launched a Telegram social media channel, Black Box, after fleeing to Turkey in 2018, that made allegations of corruption against Iran’s extraterritorial Qods Force, judges, and other senior figures.
Ankara said in December 2020, when relations with Iran were tense just after the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, that it had arrested 13 led by an Iranian. Turkish intelligence alleged the group had in October assisted Iranian agents to abduct Habib Asyud or Chaab, former head of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA).
Iran confirmed in November that it had captured Asyud, an advocate of an independent Arab state in Iran’s south-west Khuzestan province. Tehran classifies the ASMLA as a ‘terrorist’ organization.