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Recording purports to show Turkish officials discussing Syria operation

Source: Reuters - Thu, 27 Mar 2014 14:36 GMT
Author: Reuters
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ISTANBUL, March 27 (Reuters) - An anonymous YouTube account on Thursday posted what it said was an audio recording of Turkey's intelligence chief discussing possible military operations in Syria with the foreign minister and the deputy head of the armed forces.

The posting follows similar releases on social media in recent weeks which Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has cast as a plot orchestrated by his political enemies to undermine him ahead of March 30 elections.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the recording, potentially the most damaging purported leak so far as it appeared to have originated from the bugging of a highly confidential and sensitive conversation.

The foreign ministry was not immediately available to comment while the military could not immediately be reached.

The YouTube account presents the recording as being of intelligence chief Hakan Fidan discussing with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Deputy Chief of Staff Yasar Guler and other officials a possible operation to secure the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, in an area of northern Syria largely controlled by militant Islamists.

Ankara regards the tomb as sovereign Turkish territory under a treaty signed with France in 1921, when Syria was under French rule. About two dozen Turkish special forces soldiers permanently guard it.

Turkey threatened two weeks ago to retaliate for any attack on the tomb, after clashes between militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al Qaeda breakaway group, and rival rebel groups in the area, east of Aleppo near the Turkish border.

"An operation against ISIL has international legitimacy. We will define it as al Qaeda. There are no issues on the al Qaeda framework. When it comes to the Suleyman Shah tomb, it's about the protection of national soil," a voice presented as that of foreign ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu says.

When the discussion turns to the need to justify such an operation, the voice purportedly of Fidan says: "Justification can be created. The matter is to create the will."

(Reporting by Daren Butler, Ece Toksabay, Can Sezer and Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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