A secret Turkish court document obtained by Nordic Monitor has revealed how two senior advisors of the pro-Iranian government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were investigated as suspects in a probe of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force operatives and assets in Turkey.
Sefer Turan, Erdoğan’s chief foreign policy advisor for Muslim and Arab states, and Mustafa Varank, the former chief advisor who is now minister of industry and technology, were wiretapped by investigators who suspected the two had been working secretly to promote the interests of the Quds Force in Turkey.
The document, classified as secret, details a wiretap warrant issued by the Istanbul 3rd High Criminal Court, which was overseeing counterterrorism cases in Turkey. Judge Menekşe Uyar granted a request filed by the special anti-terror section of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on November 22, 2013. The prosecutor’s office was alerted to the suspicious activities of both aides when investigators in the Istanbul Police Department discovered their ties while surveilling IRGC operatives in Turkey.
The police filed a motion with the prosecutor’s office stating that they needed to monitor the communications of Erdoğan’s aides for three months in order to collect criminal evidence, map out the IRGC network and decode the hierarchical structure in which the Quds Force was operating. The surveillance request was part of the Istanbul prosecutors’ investigation file No. 2011/762, which was opened in 2010. Two phones used by Varank and one by Turan were included in the wiretap request.
The investigation was unfortunately hushed up by Erdoğan after the executive branch was illegally tipped off about the secret probe being conducted by judicial authorities. However, the probe identified many Iranian and Turkish nationals as Quds Force operatives and associates. Some of the people on the list had served time in Turkish prisons in the past on Iran-linked terrorism charges and were reactivated by the Quds Force after they were released by an amnesty bill endorsed by the Erdoğan government in 2004. Some of the operatives were found to be involved in surveillance of the US and Israeli embassies and consulates in Turkey, had collected information about NATO military installations and received military training in Iran.
Many investigators in the police department and members of the judiciary had been jailed for running a confidential investigation into the Quds Force under a case file named Selam Tevhid Kudus Ordusu, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey. The investigation exposed Erdoğan’s secret ties to IRGC generals and uncovered how the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), run by pro-Iranian figure Hakan Fidan, worked with the Iranian regime.
Both Turan and Varank are staunch Islamist figures who harbor anti-US and anti-Semitic sentiment. Nordic Monitor’s investigation into Turan’s past work showed that he had frequently met with controversial figures. For example, in 2004 he met with Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a radical Shia cleric who supported Islamist terrorist attacks and was regarded as the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, a militant group based in Lebanon. In 1998 he went to Khartoum to meet with Hassan al-Turabi, the controversial Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood figure who had ties to militant Islamist groups. His past writings show was sympathetic to Hamas.
Both aides would likely have been indicted if the prosecutor had finalized the investigation and submitted the file to the court. However, before the prosecutor had a chance to wrap up the confidential probe, Erdoğan stepped in and orchestrated the substitution of the lead prosecutor with a partisan one who later decided to sweep the probe under the rug.
The hushed-up IRGC case in Turkey indicated that the Israeli and US intelligence agencies had alerted their Turkish counterparts over the years about possible attacks on Western and Israeli interests as well as Jews and synagogues in Turkish territory, confirming that the threat posed by the IRGC was real and clear.
For example, on January 3, 2013, Turkish police dispatched a secret communication to police departments in all 81 provinces with a “very urgent” note, alerting about possible attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets. Intelligence that was provided by Mossad indicated that Iranian national Ali Khodadadi, who was involved in a foiled car bomb attack on February 13, 2012 that targeted the Israeli Embassy in Tbilisi, made trips to Turkey and acquired explosives there. The intel warned that the Quds Force might try to stage an attack in Turkey and that a woman identified as Leila Shatirashvili, a Georgian national linked to Khodadadi, was believed to be in Turkey. The intel provided mobile phone numbers that were used by Leila and others in Turkey.
Likewise, in another piece of intelligence provided by Israel on April 9, 2013, an Afghan national called “Mir Agha” was identified as a migrant smuggler who was tapped by the Quds Force to transport an operative across the Turkish-Greek border to stage an attack in Europe as part of clandestine operations planned by Iran. Police quickly identified the man as Mir Agha Karimi Sayed Karim (DOB January 11, 1983) from the intel provided by Mossad. Iranian national Mohsen Bkhitari, resident in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district, was also found to be involved with Agha. When the probe was expanded, police intelligence discovered eight Turkish and two Afghan nationals in the smuggling network within a week, putting them under close surveillance.
The intelligence concerning the Quds Force’s active network in Turkey has not only come from Israel. Both the US and Arab nations’ intelligence services provided similar information to the Turks, asking for a further investigation into the tips they had provided. For example, MIT relayed information it received from a foreign agency on May 31, 2012 to Turkish police, seeking an investigation into a Quds Force-sanctioned attack against Saudi Arabian interests in Turkey. The intel included the names of three Lebanese nationals (Baqira Maliki, Sajad Gaemi Hastand and General Salehi) who would make a trip to Turkey on Kuwaiti passports, and one Iranian national named Mojtaba Mohammadi, who was leading the strike team.
A Turkish police intelligence document dated April 5, 2012 stated that the US had provided information that the Quds Force was plotting an attack and that Iranian nationals Daryoush Alampourshirazi and Abbas Rezaee had entered Turkey on January 3, 2012. Turkish police determined their whereabouts and cooperated with the US in foiling the plots. Likewise, on July 26, 2013, the Turkish Foreign Ministry received an intel note from the Saudi Arabian Embassy disclosing a possible attack on Saudi targets in Turkey by an armed Shiite group and requesting stepped-up security around Saudi diplomatic missions in Turkey.