Sixteen people went on trial in Istanbul on Tuesday, charged with “political and military” espionage on behalf of Israel, Turkish media reports said.
The defendants, including Palestinians and Syrians, were arrested in October in an operation by Turkey’s national intelligence agency, MIT, according to the pro-government Sabah newspaper and other Turkish media. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The suspects allegedly spied on Palestinian and Turkish students and other people on behalf of Israel, operating in five separate groups, Sabah newspaper reported. Some of the suspects allegedly met with Israeli officials in Switzerland, Croatia, Romania and Kenya.
In October, Palestinian news agency Shehab reported that seven of the alleged spies were Palestinian. They had disappeared one after the other since the beginning of September and their families lost contact with them, according to Arab media reports at the time.
According to Shehab, the Palestinian intelligence chief, Gen. Majed Faraj, was responsible for the disappearance and arrest of the seven Palestinians.
Shehab's report said Palestinian intelligence intended to locate the missing Palestinians and assassinate them, after Israel repeatedly asked Turkey to extradite the seven and was refused.
Turkish intelligence officers reportedly monitored the group for a year before they were arrested.
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Turkish officials have not commented on the arrests.
Sabah said the initial hearings in the trial would last four days.