Palestinian-Jordanian allegedly spied for UAE for years in Turkey

A Jordanian national of Palestinian origin allegedly conducted espionage activities for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 11 years in both the UAE and Turkey, reported Turkey’s government broadcaster TRT on Tuesday.

Mahmoud Ayesh Al Astal, 45, received around $400,000 in payments for the espionage services, according to documents obtained by TRT. Seven years of his spying career were done in Turkey, where he allegedly posed as an investigative journalist writing for publications affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Astal was tasked with gathering intelligence on Muslim Brotherhood members and Arab and Emirati dissidents in Turkey. The alleged spy also gathered intelligence on domestic politics and foreign policy. He communicated with his handlers using custom encrypted messaging software installed on his computer and phone by Emirati intelligence.

The TRT report claimed that two of the at least four people who handled Astal have been identified by Turkish intelligence.

Astal was recruited by the UAE with a mixture of financial pressure and threats to withdraw his right to work in the UAE, according to the documents. Although he initially was reluctant to agree, he relented after his work visa application was denied, as it would have been difficult for him to find work in Jordan.

The first four years of his espionage career were spent spying on members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE. He eventually received a residency visa to stay in the UAE.

According to TRT, Astal provided floor plans of the Hewar Center, a think tank he was associated with, and delivered computers from the think tank’s offices to intelligence officers under the pretext that they needed repairs.

Astal was ordered to relocate to Turkey after the UAE launched a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and a number of members fled to Turkey. The spy recorded conversations he had with Brotherhood members and sent them to the Emiratis.

Last week, a senior security official told Reuters that Turkey’s intelligence officials had arrested another man suspected of spying on foreign Arab nationals on behalf of the UAE.

The detainee confessed and Turkish authorities have obtained “a trove of documents” from him showing UAE affiliation, the official told Reuters, requesting anonymity and not identifying the man. There was no immediate reaction from UAE authorities.

Last year, Turkey arrested another two men also suspected of spying on Arab nationals, including political exiles and students, for the UAE.

At the time, an official said one of those two was connected to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. One of the suspects later committed suicide in prison, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Another Palestinian, former Fatah operative Mohammad Dahlan, is also accused by Turkey of being a UAE agent and is wanted for alleged ties to the July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Dahlan has expressed support for the UAE-Israel peace agreement that was signed recently.

Abu Dhabi and Ankara have been at odds for several years over foreign policy and attitudes toward political Islamist groups, and they back opposing sides in Libya’s protracted war.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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