Turkish defector’s murder threat highlights Erdoğan’s pursuit of foes

Turkish security services are accused of plotting to murder a prominent critic of the Turkish state in Austria, the New York Times said on Tuesday.

On Sept. 15, a man walked into a police station in Vienna. The man said he was called Feyyaz Öztürk, that he was a retired agent for the Turkish security service, MIT, and that he had been ordered to kill Aygül Berivan Aslan, a Kurdish-Austrian former Green Party lawmaker.

The NYT said if Öztürk’s claims are true, they provide new insights into how far Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is ready to go to attack his critics.

Aslan had told Ahval in an interview at the time that the assassination plan was real, and that she had been personally informed of it by Austrian intelligence. The politician was put under police protection afterwards.

Öztürk also revealed that he had been forced to give false testimony in the case of Metin Topuz, an American citizen and employee with the State Department and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Topuz was sentenced in June to more than eight years in jail on charges of membership of a terrorist organisation.

Topuz worked as a translator for the DEA, and was accused of being in contact with people who were allegedly members of an organisation linked to US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, who the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating the failed 2016 coup d’etat. The U.S. embassy said it had “seen no credible evidence to support this conviction”, and visa services between the U.S. and Turkey were temporarily suspended.

Austria’s Interior Minister, Karl Nehammer, said he would not comment on the details of the investigation into the claims made by Feyyaz Ozturk, but told the NYT that “We are taking this very seriously”.

This would not be the first time that Turkey had been accused of interfering in Austria in the past year. Last month, a police commission reported that Turkey’s intelligence services had hired agents provocateur to take part in street fighting and collect information on Kurdish protesters in the Vienna district of Favoriten in June.

Interior Minister Nehammer said at the time that “Turkish espionage and Turkish meddling in democratic rights has no place in Austria.” Meanwhile, Austria’s Integration Minister, Susanne Raab, stated that “Austria has become a target of Turkish espionage,” and that “Erdoğan’s long arm reaches all the way to Vienna-Favoriten.”