Turkish Agency Airs Video Of Iranian ‘Consulate Member’ Arrest At Istanbul Airport
Turkey’s state-run news agency, Anadolou Ajanci, on Friday [February 12] aired surveillance footage from Istanbul Airport it said showed the arrest on February 8 of Reza Naserzadeh, who it alleged was a member of the Iranian consulate. The footage shows a man producing an Iranian service passport – as issued to government employees working abroad who are not diplomats – and then being led away by Turkish police.
Publicizing the footage appears designed to contradict a denial from Iran – in a statement from foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh published on Thursday – that Naserzadeh was a not consulate employee and insisting that no staff member has been arrested. The Sabah newspaper had claimed on Thursday that Naserzadeh was an Iranian diplomat working in the consulate’s civil registry.
Reuters on Friday said its sources had confirmed that Naserzadeh had been arrested on suspicion of planning the killing of Masoud Molavi Vardanjani, a former Iranian intelligence agent, in November 2019. He was shot dead on an Istanbul street.
Vardanjani fled from Iran to Turkey in 2018 and launched a Telegram channel, Black Box, highlighting corruption allegations against Iran’s extraterritorial Qods Force, judges and other senior figures.
On Friday Oubai Shahbandar, a reporter with the Turkish television channel TRT, posted a tweet with a short video taken outside the Iranian consulate in Istanbul showing a member of the consulate charging at the TRT crew as they were filming and trying to remove the camera when asked to comment on the arrest.
In his statement, Khatibzadeh said the issue was being discussed with Turkish authorities. But Naserzadeh’s arrest could sour relations between Tehran and Ankara, who are major commercial partners although trade fell 38 percent from 2016 to 2019 due to fear of United States sanctions. For many years, Iranians have found it relatively easy to get visas for Turkey, and during 2020 Iranians were the main foreign buyers of homes in Turkey.
In December Turkish media reported that Turkish Intelligence had dismantled a network tied to Iranian Intelligence that had abducted or assassinated opponents, including reportedly the arrest in October 2020 of Farajollah Chaab, former former leader of the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz. The SMLA is an insurgent group that has claimed responsibility for many attacks in Iran, including a 2018 bombing in Ahvaz that killed 25 soldiers and civilians.