Turkish media reports claim that the country's intelligence forces have apprehended at least 15 people on charges of working for the Israeli Mossad spy agency.
According to a report published by the Daily Sabah newspaper, a 200-strong team from the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) tracked the network, which consisted of five separate cells of three people each, for a year.
The report added that the Turkish counterterrorism forces caught the 15 spies during a secret operation carried out on October 7 in four provinces of the country.
The members of the espionage network reportedly had been providing Mossad information on foreign students enrolled in Turkish universities, especially those whom they believed could work in the defense industry in the future, the Daily Sabah said.
The report added that the men had been instructed to particularly gather information on Palestinians attending Turkish universities, and to find out what opportunities the government and municipalities provided them with as well as the facilities that hosted them.
The network then used the information to compile profiles on individuals to be sent to Mossad officials abroad through encrypted and web-based programs.
The espionage network also looked into various associations and organizations operating in Turkey and shared the findings with the Israeli secret service.
Investigations revealed that one of the cells was particularly important as its members were tasked with contacting Mossad field officers and meeting with them abroad.
Some of the spies met with Mossad agents in Croatia and Switzerland, where information was exchanged.
They had also received orders in the Romanian capital of Bucharest and Kenya’s Nairobi, the report noted.
During the meetings, information and documents deemed significant for Israel were relayed to field officers, known as “case officers” in intelligence terminology.
According to the Daily Sabah, MIT also uncovered how the operatives were paid, which included cryptocurrency payments and money transfers from jewelry and currency exchange stores.
The Mossad-linked spy network is said to have used the Protonmail application, which allows the encryption of Microsoft Word files, to relay intelligence.
Another program taken advantage of was SafeUM, which generates fake phone numbers that cell members used to communicate with Mossad administrators undetected from applications like WhatsApp.
The members of the espionage network were presented in court and then transferred to the Maltepe prison in Istanbul.
Turkey has long maintained warm ties with Palestinian Hamas resistance movement, and their relations have grown more overt as Ankara and Tel Aviv have been at loggerheads over a range of issues over the last decade.
In August 2020, Turkish President Recep Erdogan met with a Hamas delegation that included politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh and Salah al-Arouri, founding commander of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades – the Hamas military wing.
The meeting was harshly condemned by the US State Department at the time, but the Turkish Foreign Ministry dismissed the criticism, accusing Washington of “serving Israel’s interests.”