Turkish nationals arrested by Haftar forces not spies: Officials

Turkish security officials tell Al Jazeera the two men are restaurant workers without ties to the government.

Turkish nationals arrested by Haftar
The two restaurant workers were arrested just days after Haftar launched his offensive on Tripoli [Al Jazeera]

Turkish officials have denied reports that two Turkish nationals who were captured by forces loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar in Libya are spies.

Restaurant workers Mehmet Demir and Volkan Altinok were arrested by Haftar’s eastern-based forces in Tripoli’s southern Qasr bin Ghashir district on April 12.

They have since been sent to Grenada prison in al-Bayda, a city located about 200km east of Benghazi. 

The men were arrested just days after Haftar launched an offensive to seize control of Tripoli, which houses the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said security sources have denied any link with the two Turkish nationals.

“[Security sources] say these claims are baseless but we should consider that Khalifa Haftar has been on the same axis as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recently,” Koseoglu said. 

“Turkey’s relations with these two countries have been strained … Turkey has also captured two Arab nationals earlier this month and they confessed to spying on behalf of the UAE.”

Anas El Gomati, director of the Tripoli-based Sadeq Institute, said Haftar has arrested foreign nationals on suspicion of spying in the past.

“In the first 72 hours of Khalifa Haftar’s operations in 2014, we should remember that he detained all Turkish labourers and migrant workers working in the east of the country and labelled them spies.”

“It’s very difficult to kind of see through the weeds at times with Khalifa Haftar’s propaganda machine. It does tend to try and find anything that will add to the unsubstantiated claims he’s been making for the past four or five years.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Recep Erdogan denounced Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli in a phone call with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of Libya’s UN-recognised government, saying the attack amounted to a conspiracy against the country and its people. 

Source: Al Jazeera