EXCLUSIVE | Was the Suspicious Flight from Istanbul to Tripoli on Wednesday Night Carrying Militants from Syria? – Al Marsad

Over the past 48 hours reports circulated by Syrian news websites, both by pro-government and anti-government sources, attracted extensive media attention. All of them confirmed a covert Turkish plan to transfer Syrian opposition fighters from northern Syria to the frontlines in Tripoli. Al Marsad investigated a suspicious flight from Istanbul to Libya on the 25 December which seems to confirm the reports of possible movement of militants by Turkey to Libya.  

[Libya, 26 December 2019] – Libyan media platforms have been busy with the news that went viral on social networking apps. However, there was no official comment from the Turkish government, whether to deny these reports altogether or confirm them. Despite this, Faisal Al-Qasim, host of the controversial live debate show the “Opposite Direction” telecasted on the Doha-based Al Jazeera satellite channel, one of the most prominent media advocates of Turkish policies in the Middle East and a strong opponent of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, alluded to the authenticity of the news when he ironically commented, “the so-called Free Syrian Army is now the Free Libyan Army.”

Yesterday, Libyan social networking platforms spoke about Libyan aircraft, which were said to be two, one belonging to the Libyan Airlines and the other was owned by the Afriqiyah Airways. According to these news websites, each plane made a separate flight to transport 60 opposition fighters from Syria on board of each plane.

In the same context, a Twitter post by Al-Mayadeen TV, which is close to government in Damascus, stated on the night of 24 December that the departure time would be at 01.00 am on 25 December, literally a few hours after the tweet was published.

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Early on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) affirmed the same issue. The SOHR is affiliated with the Syrian opposition, and has been active in the field for many years and monitors the movement of Turkish fighters very closely. Their confirmation came in two posts published in Arabic and English.

The SOHR confirmed that four centres affiliated with the pro-Turkish opposition militias in Afrin in northern Syria have opened the door for recruitment to fight in Libya under the protection of Turkish forces. The SOHR published this news at a time when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was delivering his speech before the ruling Justice and Development Party this morning in which he declared that he had received a request from the Government of National Accord (GNA) to deploy his soldiers on Libya soil.

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At the time when some people were skeptical and others were certain about the deployment of Syrian opposition fighters in Libya, Al Marsad managed to obtain a copy of an email described as sensitive and important regarding a flight that took place on the night of 25 December (Wednesday morning) on a Libyan plane. This was an e-mail between the Director of the main Afriqiyah Airways station in Istanbul and the General Administration of Afriqiyah Airways in Tripoli.

Afriqiyah plane 5A-ONO in Istanbul (Archive image)

The first part of the electronic correspondence was normal and regular. It was sent from Tripoli, and specifically from the director of the flights unit at Afriqiyah Airways, from a person named Mohamed Elmaalul to the Afriqiyah office in Istanbul asking them the “MVT” for the next MU1971 flight to Tripoli on 25 December, requesting the itinerary and the names of the passengers as a customary measure used by air carriers. It should be noted here that the IATA designated number of Afriqiyah Airways flights from Tripoli to Istanbul is a fixed number, 1970 for the outgoing flights and 1971 for the incoming ones.

Email between the Director of the main Afriqiyah Airways station in Istanbul and the General Administration of Afriqiyah Airways in Tripoli

The initials MVT are an abbreviation for “An Aircraft Movement”, which means the movement of the entire plane, its final destination, its passengers, their data, and so on. This was what the concerned employee was requesting in Tripoli, and the shocking response that came from Istanbul was that this request could not be entertained.

The trip is recorded in the company records as a private “extra passenger” flight.

The staff member in Istanbul is named Birhan Kar, a Turkish official in charge of the operations of the Afriqiyah Airways. He sent his email reply to the Libyan employee and which read: “For security reasons, the National Intelligence Organization in Turkey did not want to share the number of passengers, your information.”

Email sent from Istanbul in response to the Tripoli enquiry, and which states that Turkish intelligence has requested to withhold flight data.

Al Marsad found Birhan Kar’s Linkedin account and his name and job title that corresponded to his company position as shown in the email, namely, Operations Supervisor and abbreviated OPS.

The Linkedin account bearing the name of Birhan Kar, who is likely to be the head of Afriqiyah Airways operations in Istanbul.

Al Marsad also tracked the flight number which was mentioned raised suspicion in the email exchange.

The second surprise was through Flight Radar, which specializes in tracking global air traffic. The flight was not included in the list of registered departures and arrivals on that day (25 December) in contradiction to the previous days when it was.

The flight is not scheduled on day 26 December, but appears cited on the previous day 24 and the next day 26 (Flight Radar)

By searching with the plane number itself, the correct result emerged, which was that the plane number 5A-ONO had already conducted Flight MU1971 from Istanbul to Tripoli, which proves the validity of what was stated in the electronic correspondence that the flight was unusual.

The data provided on the Flight Radar website also indicates that the flight was not scheduled with a predetermined takeoff and landing time and it appears that it landed on 25 December 25 at Mitiga Airport at 6:21 am Tripoli local time. The flight from Istanbul took 3 hours and 19 minutes, meaning that it took off from there around 03:00 am. This departure time is very close to the time posted by the Al-Mayadeen Lebanese satellite television channel when it tweeted that the plane was due to take off at 01:00 am.

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Meanwhile, Al Marsad communicated with multiple administrative sources at the Mitiga Airport, but all of them, under security pretexts, declined the request for information about the dubious flight the date of which the Turkish intelligence service demanded that it be withheld. However, two of these sources confirmed that the plane was flown by Captain A.Z. and his co-pilot A.M.

All of these statements do raise important questions about Turkey’s threat of sending its forces to Libya. Did Turkey actually embark on disposing of its old allies in the Syrian opposition, from areas within the Turkish sphere of influence such as in northern Syria, particularly in Idlib and the countryside of Aleppo, and relocate them to Libya? This confirms Syrian and Russian warnings which frequently referred to the possibility of of Turkey relocating Syrian opposition fighters to Libya to fight alongside the forces of the Government of National Accord against the Libyan National Army.

© Al Marsad English (2019)

 

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