Confessions of a remorseful agent of Turkey’s secret service
The meeting point is at the bottom of the steps of the Archaeological Museum of Palermo on a shaded square in the Sicilian city. The colonnade palace contains an attractive collection of Hellenic and Phoenician art, arranged around three interior courtyards. But it is not to talk about art history that Feyyaz Öztürk presents himself, linen shirt wide open and with a salt and pepper beard. He walks slowly because of a fractured ankle from last year that still causes him pain.
This 54-year-old man with a colossal physique wants to deliver his truth about the mysterious Vienna affair of which he is the main protagonist; a plot worthy of a spy novel. His mission was to assassinate Berivan Aslan, former Austrian environmentalist deputy and a fierce opponent of the activities of pro-Erdoğan networks in Europe.
"Did I work as an agent? The answer is yes. Was I recruited to kill Berivan Aslan? The answer is yes,” confesses the remorseful Turkish spy.
Last September, Öztürk himself went to the headquarters of the Austrian intelligence services (BVT) to raise the alarm and detail the mission entrusted to him by a Turkish underground cell. He then found himself indicted for "participation in an assassination attempt and relations with criminal organizations" and for "military espionage in connection with a foreign state".
Three months later, he was suddenly released and deported to Italy where he has held citizenship for thirty years thanks to an ex-wife. In Sicily, he feels safe because, he notes, his face splitting with a broad smile, "Here, when I am followed by the police, it is the inhabitants who warn me".
According to statements made to the Austrian police and WhatsApp conversations on his phone reproduced in his file, Feyyaz Öztürk was contacted at the end of 2018 by a clandestine cell acting on behalf of MIT, Turkey’s national intelligence organization. While in Italy, he later received a call from a Süleyman M. who sought a meeting.
After some discussions, a meeting finally takes place in August 2020, in Serbia’s capital Belgrade in a Kurdish café called Mesopotamia.
A certain "Uğur" details his mission to kill the Viennese politician Berivan Aslan to "sow chaos". Öztürk then travels to the city of Linz, where he is greeted at the station by Izzet Özavci, the head of the local Gray Wolves, a Turkish ultranationalist group with connection to the Turkish government. He was acting as a Turkish service interlocutor, who was to accompany him to the scene of the crime when the time came.
“I was told: 'It is dangerous for the survival of the Turkish state. It needs to be cleaned. "[…]. He introduced me to an Afghan agent. Many Sudanese, Afghans and Somalis are also informants for the MIT, ” he said.
At the beginning of September, the sponsors urged Öztürk to take action and the order came to him via WhatsApp.
But on Sept. 15 in Vienna, he went to the headquarters of the intelligence services and emptied his bag.
“I wanted to save my butt, it had gone quite far," Öztürk explained. He was then detained for long weeks, questioned by various services and, according to him, "beaten and tortured ". The rest of the network has not been investigated for the assassination plot.
“I showed them a phone. I had to be called on it within four days to start the operation. What did they do? They turned it off!” says Öztürk, who believes that the Austrian authorities preferred to bury the file.
The story of the plot reveals the intensity of MIT activities in Europe and the protections it enjoys, but Feyyaz Öztürk's account also conveys the existence of autonomous groups and sometimes competing strategies within the apparatus.
After the failed coup of July 15, 2016, purges were carried out on thousands of intelligence agents suspected of treason. To fill the void, the state relied on nationalist cells or paramilitary groups. The private security company Sadat, founded by an Islamist general, has thus become one of MIT's main contractors in its operations abroad.
“Many weapons have disappeared from the stocks of the police and the army, to be given to these people. HK MP5 machine guns, Uzi 61s and even armored vehicles,” Öztürk explains. He says that these weapons are what make up the arsenal of Sadat’s operatives.
The spy defends the institution but deplores what has become of it. “It was an intelligence agency, not a criminal organization. But MIT has been discredited because of guys posing on social media with automatic weapons. They are just bandits.“
Before being drawn into the criminal drift of the Turkish secret service, Öztürk says he worked for more than thirty years in intelligence networks around the world. His account is interspersed with anecdotes, most of which are impossible to verify.
He says he spent the 1990s in Western Europe with a service passport. “I lived in France in an MIT hideout, an apartment in Choisy, in the middle of Chinatown,” he says.
His career, by his account, is above all that of a specialist in criminal networks, including drug and human trafficking networks. Öztürk most often works as a freelance agent selling his information to the concerned countries. From Colombia and Afghanistan to Thailand and Nigeria, he makes a list of his exploits where he would have trapped drug traffickers and brought down networks. Certain operations, he attests, collided with the interests of other states at times.
From the 2000s, he worked regularly for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). One day, he recounts, it sent him to infiltrate the entourage of a Turkish businessman in New York, suspected of pedophilia. Another, it infiltrated him into Afghanistan to negotiate the purchase of hundreds of kilos of heroin.
The drugs were reportedly transferred to Karachi, Pakistan, with the complicity of the authorities. “We had corrupted all the security services along the way. The Peshawar border police had received $ 5,000,” he said.
It was only after the 2016 coup attempt that Öztürk was reportedly contacted by Ankara to resume service.
“They called me in 2017 because they needed reinforcements. He then said that he had worked effectively in the shadows, until the Vienna operation. That one was just too much for him.
(This article was originally published by Le Point and is republished with the permission of the author.)