12 Officers Charged, Turkey Coup Plot

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Twelve senior Turkish military officers were charged on Wednesday over an alleged plot to topple a government that secularist hardliners fear is pursuing a hidden Islamist agenda.

Turkey’s top military commanders, who have seen the army’s role as ultimate guardian of secularism eroded under European Union-backed reforms, held an emergency meeting late on Tuesday and warned in a statement of a “serious situation.”

With tensions hitting investors’ confidence and feeding speculation that elections due next year could be brought forward, Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul will meet Turkey’s top military commander on Thursday, a government source said.

Turkish stocks closed down 3.4 percent and the lira weakened to a seven-month low against the dollar, while bond yields rose.

Adding to uncertainty, Turkey’s chief prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya said he was looking into statements made by deputies from the ruling AK Party, but had not reached the stage of opening a formal investigation against the party.

Yalcinkaya tried to have the party banned for anti-secular activities in 2008. Speculation that he could try again has prompted talk that the government could call a snap election.

The AK Party, first elected in 2002 in a landslide victory over older, established parties blighted by corruption and accusations of misrule, is also embroiled in a dispute with the judiciary — another pillar of the orthodox establishment.

The military has ousted four governments of various political hues since 1960, although the army says the days of coups are now over.

While the chances of another coup are seen as remote, anxiety is growing over what the generals might do next and what strains the situation might put on the armed forces’ leadership.

Turkey’s NATO allies, particularly the United States, want the overwhelmingly Muslim nation to mature as a democracy.

Its prospects of entering the EU depend partly on ending the special status that made the arrest of military personnel, still less a former force commander, by civilian authorities inconceivable until recently.

Tensions were triggered by an unprecedented police swoop on Monday that detained around 50 serving and retired officers.

A court late on Wednesday ordered five officers, four of them retired and including former Rear Admiral Feyyaz Ogutcu, to be sent to jail pending trial. Another two were released.

The most senior detainees, retired Air Force Commander Ibrahim Firtina and ex-navy chief Ozden Ornek, are being held at police headquarters in Istanbul and are expected to be brought to the court for questioning on Thursday.

The other seven officers charged in the early hours of Wednesday consisted of four admirals, two retired and two serving, a retired brigadier-general and two retired colonels.

Pending a formal indictment, the detainees are accused of belonging to a terrorist group and of attempting to overthrow the government by force.

Six officers were released from custody on Tuesday after questioning. It was unclear if they would face charges.

The army leadership has said previously that probes into a series of alleged coup plots is hurting morale in the ranks.

In a characteristically veiled and brief statement on its web site on Tuesday, the General Staff said its top commanders had met to “assess the serious situation that has arisen.”

“What do you mean? Are you going to carry out a coup?” said a headline in Taraf, a low-circulation newspaper that has broken several stories of alleged coup plots.

The current investigation into the so-called “Sledgehammer” plan, allegedly drawn up in 2003, was triggered by a report in Taraf last month. The military has said the plan was just a scenario drawn up for an army seminar.

Retired military officers are among around 200 people indicted over separate plots by a far-right group known as Ergenekon. Critics say that trial is being used to target political opponents, an accusation the government rejects.

(Additional reporting by Pinar Aydinli, Zerin Elci and Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara, Alexandra Hudson and Thomas Grove in Istanbul; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Ralph Boulton and David Stamp)

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Who Killed Mahmoud al-Mamdouh in Dubai?

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amy Teibel, Arizona Daily Star

Mamdouh mossad X

KHALIL HAMRA  Palestinian Fayeq al-Mabhouh sits in front of posters of his brother and Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, left and right, who was assassinated in Dubai, and Hamas member Mohammed Hussein Mabhouh, in the family house in Jebaliya, northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010. Dubai police appealed for an international manhunt Tuesday after releasing names and photos of an alleged 11-member hit squad accused of stalking and killing Mabhouh last month in a plot that mixed cold precision with spy caper disguises such as fake beards and wigs.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

This combination image made from undated photos released by the Dubai Ruler’s Media Office on Monday, Feb. 15, 2010, which were claimed by Dubai’s Police Chief to show eleven suspects wanted in connection with the killing of a Hamas commander, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in his Dubai hotel room last month.

Israel’s foreign minister said Wednesday there was no reason to assume the Mossad assassinated a Hamas military commander in Dubai, even as suspicions mounted that the country’s vaunted spy agency made the hit using the identities of Israelis with European passports.

While few people are privy to the cloak-and-dagger operations of the Mossad, senior Israeli security officials not directly involved with the affair said they were convinced it was a Mossad operation because of the motive and the use of Israeli identities. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a government order not to discuss the case, characterized it as a significant Mossad bungle.

The suspicions ratcheted up pressure on Israel to be more forthcoming over the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a man it claims supplied Gaza’s Hamas rulers with the most dangerous weapons it possesses. Israeli critics pointed the finger at Mossad, accusing it of sloppiness and endangering Israeli citizens.

Dubai police this week released names, photos, and passport numbers of 11 members of an alleged hit-squad that killed al-Mabhouh in his luxury Dubai hotel room last month. Dubai said all 11 carried European passports. But most of the identities appear to be stolen and at least seven matched up with real people in Israel who claim they are victims of identity theft.

“I don’t know why we are assuming that Israel, or the Mossad, used those passports,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Army Radio in Israel’s first official comments on the affair.

But Lieberman did not deny involvement outright, saying Israel rightly maintains a policy of ambiguity where security operations are concerned.

“Israel never responds, never confirms and never denies,” he said. “There is no reason for Israel to change this policy.”

Amir Oren, a military analyst for the Israeli daily Haaretz, called for the ouster of Mossad director Meir Dagan.

“What is needed now is a swift decision to terminate Dagan’s contract and to appoint a new Mossad chief,” wrote Oren in a front-page commentary. “There’s no disease without a cure.”

The Iranian-backed Hamas has been blaming Israel for al-Mabhouh’s killing from the beginning.

“The investigation of the police of Dubai proves what Hamas had said from the first minute, that Israel’s Mossad is responsible for the assassination,” Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator in Gaza, said Wednesday.

Al-Mabhouh was one of the founders of the Hamas militant group, which has carried out hundreds of attacks and suicide bombings targeting Israelis, and now rules the Gaza Strip. He also was involved in the 1989 capturing and killing of two Israeli soldiers.

Israel considered him to be the point man in smuggling Iranian rockets into Gaza that would be capable of striking the Jewish state’s Tel Aviv heartland.

Al-Mabhouh was targeted in three previous assassination attempts, his brother Hussein told The Associated Press.

At least seven people who live in Israel share names with suspects identified by Dubai police. One, a British-Israeli citizen named Melvyn Adam Mildiner, said the passport photo on the Dubai wanted flier was not him but the passport number was correct. He also denied having been to Dubai.

Another of the seven, Stephen Hodes, denied any link to the case in an interview with Israel Radio and said he, too, had never visited Dubai.

“I’m shocked. I don’t know how they got to me. Those aren’t my photographs, of course,” Hodes said. “I don’t know how they got to my details, who took them. …. I’m simply afraid. These are powerful forces.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Wednesday promised an inquiry into the use of fake British passports in the killing.

“We are looking at this at this very moment,” Brown told London’s LBC radio. “We have got to carry out a full investigation into this. The British passport is an important document that has got to be held with care.” He did not assess blame for the forgeries.

Several senior British lawmakers said Israel’s envoy should be summoned to the Foreign Office to explain what his country’s role in the slaying was.

The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the smallest of Britain’s three main parties, said that “if the Israeli government was party to behavior of this kind it would be a serious violation of trust between nations.”

Menzies Campbell, who serves on the House of Common’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said “the Israeli government has some explaining to do” and called for the ambassador to be summoned “in double-quick time.”

The committee’s chairman, Mike Gapes, a member of Britain’s ruling Labour party, added that the assassination was either the work of Israelis “or someone trying to make sure it looks like the Israelis.”

Like Lieberman, Israeli security analyst Ephraim Kam said the use of Israeli identities did not prove the Mossad killed al-Mabhouh.

“I cannot see a reason why the Mossad would use the names of Israelis here or citizens who live here,” Kam said.

Rafi Eitan, a former Cabinet minister and Mossad agent who took part in the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, thought Israel’s foes were trying to frame it by using the identities of Israelis.

“It means some foreign service, an enemy of Israel, wanted to taint Israel. It took the names of Israeli citizens, doctored the passports … and thus tainted us,” Eitan said.

Lawmaker Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy commander of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service, said he would ask to convene a meeting of the Israeli parliament’s powerful foreign affairs and defense committee to discuss the matter.

“No one should use someone’s identity without his permission or without his understanding in some way what it is being used for,” Hasson told Israel Radio.

The Mossad has been accused of identity theft before. New Zealand convicted and jailed two Israelis in 2005 of trying to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports. New Zealand demanded _ and won _ an apology from Israel, which Auckland said proved the pair were spies.

But this would be the first time that the Mossad has been suspected of using the identities of its own citizens.

If the Israeli government was behind the identity theft, it broke Israeli laws against impersonation and fraud, said Nirit Moskovich of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Kam, the security analyst, said the people whose identities were released could be in danger from Hamas.

“I think they should be careful,” he said.

The affair could have unwanted diplomatic repercussions for Israel if it indeed used the foreign passports of its own nationals. Several British lawmakers on Wednesday called for the Israeli ambassador to be summoned to the Foreign Office immediately to explain what happened.

The affair could also have fallout for the Mossad as an agency, and for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Dagan personally.

Netanyahu’s first tenure in the late 1990s was marred by the Mossad’s botched attempt at assassinating the man who now is Hamas’ supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal.

But while Haaretz commentator Oren was calling for Dagan’s head, analyst Ronen Bergman of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper deemed the operation a success.

“Al-Mabhouh is dead and all the partners to the operation left Dubai safely,” he said.

____
Associated Press reporter Rizek Abdel Jawad contributed to this report from the Gaza Strip.

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Iran Says to Free 100 More People Held in Unrest

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fredrik Dahl

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Two thirds of people detained during post-election unrest in Tehran last month have already been freed and another 100 will soon be released, Iran’s police chief was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

“One hundred more will be released in the next two days,” state broadcaster IRIB quoted Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam as saying in the northwestern city of Qazvin.

The same official last week said 1,032 people were detained in the capital following the disputed June 12 presidential election, but that most had since been let go.

Official results of the vote showing hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won by a landslide triggered days of mass street protests by supporters of defeated candidate Mirhossein Mousavi, a moderate who says the election was rigged.

State media say at least 20 people were killed as protesters clashed with riot police and members of the Basij militia. The authorities and Mousavi blame each other for the bloodshed. Hardliners have called for Mousavi to be put on trial.

Rights activists have said 2,000 detained during the vote’s turbulent aftermath may still be held across Iran, including leading reformers, academics, journalists and students.

But a reformist member of parliament quoted Iran’s general prosecutor as saying 2,000 out of 2,500 detained had been freed and that the remaining cases would be referred to the judiciary.

The MP, Mohammadreza Tadesh, was quoted by a reformist website as making the statement on Wednesday after a meeting with the prosecutor, Ghorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi.

Mousavi has demanded the release of “children of the revolution,” referring to many detained establishment figures.

They include a former vice president and other former officials who held senior positions during the 1997-2005 presidency of Mohammad Khatami, who backed Mousavi’s campaign.

The authorities accuse the West, particularly the United States and Britain, of inciting unrest in the Islamic Republic following the election, which led to the most widespread street protests in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Security forces quelled the demonstrations but Mousavi and allies have refused to back down, saying Ahmadinejad’s next government would be illegitimate.

The authorities reject vote rigging allegations. Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday it had been the world’s “freest” election.

Iran’s main moderate party, Islamic Iran’s Participation Front, called on Wednesday for the immediate release of its detained members and other people arrested because of their activities in support of moderate candidates in the election.

In a statement on its website, it expressed deep concern about the health situation of some of those held.

“Whatever happens to them, those who in the name of law and sharia arrested them will be responsible,” the party said.

The Kargozaran party, seen as close to former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, earlier this week also called for the release of those detained and rejected the election result.

In Geneva, six U.N. human rights experts sought permission to visit Iran, saying they were concerned that political opponents of Ahmadinejad were continuing to be targeted.

“The legal basis for the arrests of journalists, human rights defenders, opposition supporters and scores of demonstrators remains unclear,” they said in a joint statement.

“Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly continue to be undermined and the situation of human rights defenders is increasingly precarious,” the statement said.

(Additional reporting by Geneva bureau; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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