Iran alleged to be behind murder of Turkish intelligence officer, posted as diplomat in Erbil

The entrance to the headquarters of MIT, Turkey's National Intelligence Organization, in Ankara.

Abdullah Bozkurt

The death of Osman Köse, an officer in Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) who was working under diplomatic cover when gunned down in northern Iraq on July 17, 2019, was a contract killing because he knew too much about Iranian activities in Turkey, Nordic Monitor has learned.

According to multiple sources who spoke to Nordic Monitor on condition that their names be withheld, Köse was posted to the city of Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq some six month ago under diplomatic cover. He was working on the Iran desk at MIT before his overseas posting was requested by Hakan Fidan, the intelligence chief, known to be Iranian pro-mullah regime.

The sources say the appointment was aimed at removing Köse from work on the Iranian file at headquarters and having him killed in a contract hit that was to be blamed on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This is not the first time the PKK has been accused of murders that were not authorized within the chain of command of the armed militant group. The PKK has been waging a secessionist war against Turkey for decades, and some 40,000 people have been killed during the conflict, which started in the early 1980s.

 

Osman Köse

 

Turkish intelligence is known to have assets within the PKK, and in fact several judicial investigations into PKK terrorist acts in the past revealed that some of the detained suspects who killed and engaged in bombing attacks were in fact working for MIT. The prosecutors issued a summons to Fidan over his role in such an act on February 7, 2012, but President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prevented his intelligence chief from responding to the summons and testifying. The case was later dropped.

The sources say that Köse was not a diplomat but an agent of MIT, which often uses positions at Turkish diplomatic missions abroad to provide cover for operatives abroad.

If 36-year-old Köse was a career Turkish diplomat as the government of President Erdoğan has claimed, his service record would have been announced. There was no information as to where he served as a diplomat in the past, and no funeral service was reportedly held at the Foreign Ministry, which was unusual. Fidan was in the first row facing the coffin during the funeral service held at a mosque in the Turkish capital.

 

Hakan Fidan (R), head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), attended the funeral service of slain operative Osman Köse.

Köse was reportedly on a six-month assignment and was expected to return to Turkey within two weeks, immediately before the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, celebrated August 11-15.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced that Mazlum Dağ, a 27-year-old Kurdish man from Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakır was a suspect in the murder. Dağ is the brother of Dersim Dağ, Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy for Diyarbakır. Speaking on PKK-affiliated Sterk TV on July 24, senior PKK commander Bahoz Erdal denied PKK responsibility for the shooting but praised its perpetrators, saying that the hit appears to have been the work of youths who have dedicated themselves to the PKK. Erdal also said Köse was not a diplomat but a MIT agent who was tasked with coordinating hits on the PKK leadership.

Turkey has reportedly prepared a file for the extradition of Dağ, who already faces five criminal cases in Diyarbakir on multiple charges. He has been the subject of an outstanding arrest warrant since 2014.

CCTV footage reportedly from inside the HuQQabaz restaurant and broadcast by Iraqi Kurdish news network Rudaw shows Dağ and another unidentified assailant opening fire on Köse and his associate at the table. Right after firing his gun, Dağ immediately picks up a bag that was next to Köse, suggesting that the hit was not only intended to kill but also to retrieve the bag Köse brought with him to the meeting at the restaurant. Witnesses said the assailants used silencers in the attack.

The elimination of Köse fits a pattern seen in the behavior of the pro-Iranian Erdoğan government. A major purge and/or dismissal of security officials who had worked on tracking and monitoring Iran’s activities in Turkey took place in January 2014, when the Erdoğan government was made aware of a secret probe into the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force and its assets. Not only police investigators but also prosecutors and judges who had been involved in the case since 2010 were hastily removed, and the case was hushed up before detention warrants were issued for dozens of suspects, including senior officers of the IRGC who were posted to Turkey.

The criminal investigation also revealed Fidan’s links to the mullah regime and documented how he has been secretly cooperating with an IRGC general and leaking confidential information. The investigation was kicked off in 2010 by a complaint filed in Bursa province by the disgruntled wife of Hüseyin Avni Yazıcıoğlu, a known Iranian asset who was convicted of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization and served over three years in an Ankara prison. After his release, he moved to İstanbul but maintained close ties with Fidan and communicated with him.

Erdoğan has purged and/or jailed 7 percent of the intelligence officers from MİT since 2013, when he and his family members were incriminated in a graft probe that involved Iranian and Saudi nationals. According to a secret document obtained by Nordic Monitor and reported previously, 558 MİT employees have been dismissed from the spy agency. Of these, 181 were dismissed immediately after major corruption investigations in December 2013 that exposed how Erdoğan had done business with Iranian sanctions buster Reza Zarrab, indicted in the US, and Saudi businessman Yasin al-Qadi, then listed as an al-Qaeda financier by the UN and the US, in exchange for kickbacks.

The fate and location of some of the dismissed intelligence officers are not known, although some were believed to have been killed, according to Nordic Monitor sources.

The pro-government media in Turkey tried to pin the murder of Köse on the United States and anti-Iran bloc countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Writing in the Sabah daily, owned by Erdogan’s family, Ferhat Ünlü suggested in an article on July 21, 2019 that the US might be behind the murder as in the case of slain MIT officers in the 1990s in Kurdistan because Washington was angered by Turkey’s behavior in the purchase of Russian S-400 missiles. He also added that Arab countries and Israel have been pursuing anti-Turkey intelligence activities in the region.

On July 23, 2019 a pro-government group led by Mahmut Alan, head of an association called Köroğlu Gençlik Derneği Başkanı, held a rally in front of the US Embassy in Ankara protesting the death of Köse and blaming the US government for it.

 

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