Fifteen Turkish citizens have been held by forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), since the beginning of the February.
According to family members of those Turkish nationals who spoke to the Cumhuriyet daily, they were arrested by LNA forces due to the deployment of Turkish troops to Libya by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. They asked the government to act urgently for the Turks’ release.
In Libya, Turkey supports the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which opposes Haftar. The Turkish government deployed troops to Libya and transferred jihadists from the Syrian region of Idlib to the country in accordance with a security accord signed in November 2019 by President Erdoğan and Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the GNA.
According to the Turkish media, İlker Sağlık, Halil Gözel, Nurettin Çalık, Yusuf Gürün, Vahit Kiraz and Doğan Kıssa are some of Turkish nationals who are being held by Haftar forces.
The son — whose name was not disclosed by the daily — of Vahit Kiraz, who was arrested in Sirte on February 5, 2020 and is the owner of a Turkish restaurant in the Libyan city, claimed that his father was accused by the LNA of engaging in espionage. “They were arrested on espionage charges. My father has been living in Libya for 30 years. … We have learned that they are being held in the Kuveyfiye military prison [in Benghazi],” he stated.
Haftar forces seized control of the strategic coastal city of Sirte in January 2020. Sirte had been governed since 2016 by forces allied with the GNA based in Tripoli.
According to Cumhuriyet, relatives of the detainees have faced threats from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the government is trying to hide the incident. “My mother has been in the hospital since my father’s arrest. We are very sad. No government official has contacted us. I’ve asked A Haber [a Turkish TV station owned by Erdoğan] and TRT [the public broadcaster] why [the arrest of Turkish nationals] was not reported. They told me that the government does not want the incident to be made public. AKP officials to whom I have reached out have threatened my job since I’m a public official and said, ‘Should the government contact Haftar? Contacting [the LNA] would mean official recognition.’ Will those people die there?” Kiraz’s son asked.
Yakup Demir filed a petition with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu seeking the ministry’s assistance for the release of his father-in-law, Halil Gözel, who was arrested on February 6 in Libya. The Turkish Embassy in Tripoli informed Demir that the embassy was unable to secure the release of the Turkish nationals, which would only be possible with the help of third parties, Cumhuriyet reported.
According to Cumhuriyet, another Turkish citizen, A.K., who was also being held in Sirte, has been freed thanks to efforts by his Libyan business partner. A.K. returned Turkey on his own, the Turkish daily stated.
Turkish citizen (A.K.) who was being held in Sirte spoke to daily Cumhuriyet
Haftar declared a general mobilization last year as tensions between Ankara and the LNA mounted and ordered that all Turkish nationals be arrested and all restaurants and shops with Turkish names or products be closed.
Following the deployment of the Turkish troops and Syrian jihadists, Turkish soldiers, an intelligence officer and Syrian fighters were killed when Turkish drones and military vehicles were attacked by LNA forces.
However, Turkish authorities arrested several journalists over a report that revealed photos of a Turkish intelligence officer apparently killed in Libya, in order to control the narrative about its intelligence activities in the North African country.