Detained ‘UAE spy’ was working as a journalist in Turkey

The 45-year-old Jordanian was arrested in Turkey on Friday on suspicion of spying for the United Arab Emirates.

Ahmed al-Astal, 45, is suspected of spying for the United Arab Emirates, according to a Turkish official [File: Ozan Kose/AFP]

A Jordanian man arrested in Turkey on suspicion of spying for the United Arab Emirates had been working as a journalist in Turkey, it has emerged.

The 45-year-old Ahmed al-Astal, originally from Palestine, was detained on Friday by Turkey’s intelligence agency for allegedly monitoring Arab dissidents for years.

A Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Washington Post, said al-Astal was working as a journalist in the country.

Al-Astal, who is expected to appear in court this week, has reportedly confessed to working for the UAE, the official added.

Reuters news agency reported on Friday that Turkish authorities had obtained a “trove of documents” from the suspect, proving his links to the UAE.

An official told Reuters he travelled to Turkey using a non-UAE passport and “infiltrated Arab dissident and journalist networks for years”.

A summary of the findings by Turkish intelligence shared with The Washington Post reveals al-Astal, known as Abu Layla in the UAE, was forced into espionage more than 10 years ago. He had turned down an offer by the UAE in 2008 but later accepted it after failing to get a job, the findings reveal.

They said al-Astal “concentrated on Turkey’s relations with the Muslim world, foreign policy initiatives and domestic politics”, adding that he was tasked with looking into whether the Turkish government was vulnerable to another coup following the 2016 failed attempt.

Al-Astal also “passed information to the UAE about Turkey-based Arab journalists and dissidents, who may be vulnerable to recruitment efforts by Emirati intelligence”, the summary said, adding that he received approximately $400,000 while working for the UAE.

This is the third arrest in the past two years by Turkey on charges of espionage for the UAE.

Two men were arrested in April 2019. An official told Reuters one of the two was connected to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. The other died in custody in what the government called an apparent suicide, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Ties between Ankara and Abu Dhabi have been strained in recent years, particularly over Ankara’s support for Qatar after four Arab countries – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt – cut off diplomatic ties with Doha in 2017.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies