Turkey’s state news agency has published images of two men accused of helping fugitive businessman Carlos Ghosn escape via an Istanbul airport, as he fled a corruption trial in Japan.
The security camera images, first made public on Thursday, show Michael Taylor and George Antoine Zayek at passport control in Istanbul Airport, according to state news agency Anadolu.
The Wall Street Journal described Taylor as a former US special forces operative now working as a private security contractor.
Ghosn, the former boss of carmaker Nissan, fled from Japan reportedly by hiding inside an audio equipment box, later giving a news conference in Lebanon.
He has refused to comment on the details of his escape.
Turkish police say he disembarked on foot at the smaller Ataturk Airport and transferred to another private jet for Lebanon.
Anadolu’s report suggests Taylor and Zayek accompanied Ghosn from Japan to Turkey, but then transferred across town to Istanbul’s main airport and took a separate flight to Beirut with Middle East Airlines.
Turkey has arrested five people as part of its investigation into the escape, including employees of MNG, the private jet firm used by Ghosn.
The firm says its aircraft were used illegally in the escape and has filed a criminal complaint.
Egypt has accused four staff of Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu whom it arrested for spreading “false news” and working with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.
Police raided their Cairo office Tuesday and formally arrested them Wednesday at a time of rising tensions between the rival nations.
The interior ministry charged that the news bureau was a front for a “Turkish troll farm … intent on broadcasting false news about the country’s political, economic, security and rights situation”.
It published the full names of those arrested — three Egyptian journalists and one Turkish citizen who handled the office’s finances.
The ministry said the employees were working “with the aim of distorting the image” of Egypt and said their cases had been referred to the prosecution.
Turkey has summoned Egypt’s charge d’affaires to protest the raid.
The Turkish and Egyptian governments are fierce rivals Since Ankara strongly supported Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood administration that was overthrown by a military ouster in 2013.
Egypt outlawed the Islamist group in the same year.
Ankara and Cairo are also on opposing sides of the Libyan conflict.
Turkey supports the UN-recognised government in Tripoli, which is under siege from forces loyal to eastern-based general Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
The United States, an ally of both Turkey and Egypt, said it had seen news reports on the raid and arrests.
“If true, we call on the Egyptian government to release the detained journalists and allow for a free and open press in Egypt,” a State Department spokesperson said.
New York-based rights group Committee to Protect Journalists slammed the arrests, saying “journalists operating in Egypt should not have to work in fear that they will be used to settle political scores between countries”.
“Authorities must immediately release the Anadolu News Agency staffers arrested yesterday and stop using false news charges to harass and silence the media,” CPJ added.
Egypt ranks third in the world in terms of the number of journalists in detention, behind China and Turkey, according to CPJ
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he would “teach a lesson” to Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar if he resumed fighting after abandoning ceasefire talks in Moscow.
Haftar left Moscow on Tuesday without signing a peace deal aimed at ending nine months of fighting with the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
“We will not hesitate to teach a deserved lesson to the putschist Haftar if he continues his attacks on the country’s legitimate administration and our brothers in Libya,” Erdogan told a meeting of his party in Ankara in a televised speech.
The heads of Libya’s warring sides were to meet in Moscow on Monday to sign a ceasefire deal ending nine months of heavy fighting.
The meeting follows a diplomatic push by Turkey and Russia, which is keen to bolster its status as a powerbroker in the Middle East and step into a diplomatic void left by what observers see as a partial US retreat.
The two sides are expected to sign an agreement on the terms of a ceasefire that took effect over the weekend, raising hopes of an end to the fighting that has wracked the oil-rich North African country since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
The UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, has been under attack since last April from forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east of the country.
Haftar and Sarraj were to meet in Moscow for talks along with “representatives of other Libyan sides”, the Russian foreign ministry said, with Turkey and Russia’s foreign and defence ministers acting as mediators.
Russian news agencies reported representatives of the two sides had arrived for talks, but it was unclear if Haftar and Sarraj would meet face-to-face.
The ceasefire initiative was launched by President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who jointly called for a truce in Istanbul last week.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Putin on Saturday and he supported her drive to hold a peace conference sponsored by the United Nations in Berlin soon.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was also due in Turkey on Monday to discuss the situation in Libya with Erdogan.
‘Turn page on past’
Sarraj on Monday called on Libyans to “turn the page on the past, reject discord and to close ranks to move towards stability and peace”.
His comments came after a ceasefire began at midnight on Sunday (2200 GMT on Saturday) in line with Putin and Erdogan’s joint call.
Sarraj confirmed the ceasefire had taken effect.
Since the start of the offensive against Tripoli, more than 280 civilians and about 2,000 fighters have been killed and 146,000 Libyans displaced, according to the United Nations.
Turkey and Russia’s diplomatic offensive came despite the countries being seen as supporting opposing sides.
Ankara dispatched troops — in a training capacity, it said — to support the GNA in January in a move criticised by leading European powers including Britain and France and US President Donald Trump.
Russia has been accused of backing pro-Haftar forces, which are supported by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — all regional rivals of Turkey.
Several hundred Russian mercenaries are reported to be in Libya supporting Haftar but Putin said on Saturday that any Russians in the country were not in Moscow’s pay.
The head of Libya’s High Council of State, Khaled al-Mechri, said the ceasefire would pave the way for the revival of the political process.
The head of Russia’s contact group to Tripoli, Lev Dengov, said the two rivals would have to determine in the Russian capital “the terms of the future settlement in Libya, including the possibility of signing an agreement on the ceasefire and its details”.
“They will have separate meetings with Russian officials and emissaries of the Turkish delegation, which is cooperating with Russia on this issue,” said Dengov, quoted by Russian news agencies.
“Representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt will probably be present as observers at the talks.”
Europe and North Africa have also launched a diplomatic offensive to try to prevent Libya, with the increased involvement of international players in its conflict, from turning into a “second Syria”.
European governments, including former colonial power Italy, fear that Islamist militants and migrant smugglers, already highly active in Libya, will take further advantage of the chaos.
King Abdullah of Jordan on Monday warned that thousands of fighters have left Syria for Libya and “that is something we in the region but also our European friends will have to address in 2020”.
Turkey has arrested 100 suspected members of the Islamic State group (IS) in raids across the country, state news agency Anadolu reported on Monday.
More than 40 Iraqis, around 20 Syrians and a Moroccan were among those detained across six provinces in recent days, including Ankara, Bursa and Batman, Anadolu said.
Turkey has stepped up raids on IS militants in recent months and pushed to repatriate them to their countries of origin.
It announced 20 arrests in Istanbul last week.
Turkey was accused of allowing foreign jihadists to pass easily across its border in the early years of the Syrian conflict.
But it took a much tougher response after a spate of IS attacks in 2015 and 2016 that decimated its tourism industry, culminating in a massacre at an Istanbul nightclub celebrating the 2017 New Year in which 39 people died.
Turkey will not withdraw from its observation posts in the Syrian rebel bastion province of Idlib which has seen an increase in violence carried out by regime forces supported by Russian airstrikes, the defence minister said.
The posts were established under a September 2018 deal between Syrian regime ally Moscow and Ankara, which backs the rebels, to avert an all-out Syrian government onslaught in Idlib.
President Bashar al-Assad’s forces surrounded one of 12 Turkish observation posts in Idlib province on Monday after overrunning nearby areas in a push to take the last opposition holdout, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“We respect the agreement reached with Russia and we expect Russia to abide by this agreement,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in comments published on Sunday on the defence ministry’s Twitter account.
“We will by no means empty those 12 observation posts, we will not leave there,” Akar said.
His comments came during a visit, together with top army commanders, to the southern province of Hatay on the Syrian border to inspect Turkish troops on Saturday.
Turkey, worried over a new wave of refugees from the Idlib region, is pressing for a fresh ceasefire deal, as it sent a delegation to Moscow on Monday.
“We are doing what’s needed to put an end to this massacre,” Akar was quoted as saying by the official news agency Anadolu.
He said Ankara expected Damascus ally Russia to “use its influence on the regime in order to stop ground and air assault” in Idlib.
The latest violence has displaced more than 235,000 people and killed scores of civilians, despite an August ceasefire deal and international calls for a de-escalation.
The Idlib region hosts some three million people including many displaced by years of violence in other parts of Syria.
“As long as this pressure remains in place, it will trigger a new migrant wave and put further burden on Turkey which is already hosting nearly four million Syrian brothers,” said Akar.
Around 300 protesters — mostly Syrians living in Turkey — held an anti-Moscow demonstration near the Russian consulate in Istanbul on Saturday against the intensified attacks in Idlib, shouting “murderer Putin, get out of Syria!”, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Akar’s visit to soldiers on the border region comes as Turkey is also readying to send troops to support the UN-recognised government in Tripoli against strongman Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army.
“The Turkish Armed Forces are ready for whatever task is given in order to protect our country and people’s interests,” Akar said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said Ankara would respond to an invitation from the Libyan national unity government and that the Turkish parliament would vote on a motion to send troops as soon as it returns from recess as early as next month.
Ankara signed in November a security and military cooperation deal with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) but in order to send troops, parliament needs to vote through a motion as it does for Iraq and Syria.
Anadolu news agency, citing sources in Erdogan’s ruling party, reported that the timetable could be brought forward and the motion could be presented to the parliamentary speaker’s office on Monday.
The General Assembly could vote the measure in an extraordinary session on Thursday, it said. Parliament is due to return from recess on January 7.
A Turkish court on Friday issued jail terms to six journalists from an opposition newspaper accused of links to the group blamed by the government for the 2016 failed coup, a lawyer told AFP.
The court in Istanbul sentenced journalists from the Sozcu daily including columnist Emin Colasan and editor-in-chief Metin Yilmaz to prison terms ranging from two years and one month to three years and six months on terrorism charges, their lawyer Celal Ulgen said.
The nationalist Sozcu is on occasion vehemently anti-government and its angry front pages are regarded with suspicion even by some liberal Turks critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It is the second opposition daily to be targeted after Cumhuriyet newspaper.
“This is an empty case,” Colasan was quoted by the paper as telling the court. “There is no evidence or witness against us.”
Sozcu condemned the verdict as a “black stain”, saying those convicted were only carrying out their work as journalists.
The court also sentenced the newspaper’s accountant to two years and one month in prison.
It said the case against its owner Burak Akbay, who is the subject of a 2017 arrest warrant but remains abroad, would be treated separately.
Lawyer Ulgen said a higher court was due to decide whether to uphold the sentences, adding that the journalists were currently free.
“There is neither a judicial control or any measure that restricts their freedom right now,” he said.
The government blames the movement of US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen for the July 2016 failed coup but the Erdogan foe strongly denies the charges.
Critics say the vast crackdown in the wake of the failed putsch goes well beyond alleged coup plotters and opposition politicians and dozens of journalists have been caught up in the crackdown.