August 25, 2016

Turkey accused of 'systematic spying' in Austria

An Austrian politician has accused Turkish authorities of spying on people living in Austria who are opposed to the Turkish leader President Tayyip Erdogan.

It follows similar accusations made in recent days in Germany and the Netherlands regarding possible networks of thousands of Turkish spies in Europe.

The security spokesperson for Austria’s Green party, Peter Pilz, announced on Wednesday that “systematic spying” is being carried out of people living in Austria who are against the Turkish government.

Pilz claims information about opposition supporters is being gathered by organisations affiliated with the AKP, the ruling party in Turkey formerly led by Erdogan before he became president.

The Green politician spoke of “systematic spying on all people with Turkish, Kurdish and Alevi backgrounds who have not surrendered unconditionally to Erdogan”, although he did not provide detailed evidence.

Pilz claims the AKP-affiliated organisation European Union Turkish Democrats (UETD), financial association MÜSİAD and religious organisation ATIP are gathering information in Austria and sharing it with Turkish intelligence agency MIT.

The names passed to MIT is added to a list of people the authorities want to arrest, according to Pilz.

The Green politician also says that MIT requested Austria's Interior Ministry send a list of all supporters in Austria of Erdogan’s exiled rival Fethullah Gülen. It is not thought the Interior Ministry complied with the request.

Following an ongoing diplomatic dispute between Austria and Turkey over protests that took place in Vienna and other cities last month, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Austria this week to review relations.

A spy network in Germany

The news follows similar claims made by a Green politician in Germany at the weekend. The party’s security spokesperson Hans-Christian Ströbel told Die Welt that MIT has some 6,000 informants in Germany.

An intelligence expert and author Erich Schmidt-Eenboom told The Local Germany that if true it would mean the spies are each monitoring more people than the Stasi did in West Germany during the Cold War.

For Germany’s population of about 3 million people with Turkish roots, that means that each informant could be responsible for monitoring 500 people, which is a greater proportion than the Stasi had in West Germany, Schmidt-Eenboom said.

Dutch warn of Turkish agents in Europe

Pieter Cobelens, ex-director of the Dutch Military Intelligence Services, has also warned that several members of the Turkish intelligence services live undercover in Europe to watch over Turkish expatriates.

He said: "President Erdogan has plenty of powerful tools he can use, which easily reach into European countries. Without doubt he has hired thugs who approach Turks and pressure them. It is not difficult when these expats are reminded they still have family that lives in Turkey."

While the exact number of Turkish agents in the Netherlands is unknown, German intelligence has estimated that around 6,000 agents and informants of the Turkish Intelligence Services (MIT) work in Germany.

Dutch Labour politician Latif Tali is active in the Kurdish movement and said it is self-explanatory that Turkish intelligence is operating in Europe.

He said: "I cannot state it with official facts, but we feel their presence. For this reason, we always use nicknames instead of our real names. At our meetings there is always someone who makes pictures, which later turn up in Turkey with our names beneath it. We can get into a lot of problems because of that. Often you think 'how do they know all these things about us?'"

Published on The Local, 25 August 2016, Thursday