Authorities release suspects in plot to abduct Syrian colonel

İSTANBUL, Turkey - Three individuals detained by Turkish authorities for allegedly planning to abduct Syrian Col. Riad al-Asaad from a refugee camp in southeastern Turkey have been released by authorities in Adana after giving testimony, the Anatolia news agency reported on Monday.

The suspects, two of whom were Turkish nationals and one a Syrian citizen, were arrested early Monday morning on suspicion of planning to abduct defected Syrian Col. Asaad, one of the highest-ranking defectors from the Syrian army and the official head of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The rebel organization, a network of militias which are fighting to depose embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is nominally directed from a refugee camp in Altınözü, a district in the southeastern province of Hatay.

The Hatay Prosecutor’s Office called for the detention of the three over the weekend after Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) alerted the prosecutor that the individuals were gathering intelligence for Col. Asaad’s abduction. Another rebel commander, Moustafa al-Sheikh, was also reportedly targeted for abduction by the three.

After giving testimony to authorities at the Adana Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the suspects were released on Monday evening as part of what public prosecutor press representative Ahmet Akkaya told the Anatolia news agency was an “ongoing investigation.” Akkaya declined to give details on the nature of the three’s testimony.

Turkish authorities have stepped up efforts to prevent the abduction of rebel fighters from refugee camps after the September abduction of Syrian Col. Hussein Harmush, who defected and fled to Turkey in June. Just days after Harmush was reported missing at his refugee camp in Hatay, he appeared in a tape aired by Syrian television in which he “confessed” to crimes against the Syrian government. In late January, the Syrian League for Human Rights reported that regime forces had executed the rebel colonel.

Outrage over the Harmush scandal grew significantly when in February the Adana Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office called for the arrest of a MİT agent it claimed had helped Syrian authorities carry out the abduction. The MİT officer and four others are suspected of accepting a bribe of $100,000 from Syrian intelligence services to repatriate Harmush. The prosecutor also suggested that other MİT officials would be called to testify as “suspects” in the Harmush abduction case.

On March 6, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave special authorization to a prosecutor from the Adana Prosecutor’s Office to open an official investigation into the MİT official connected to Harmush’s abduction.

Source: Today’s Zaman

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