Turkish intelligence operations in North and East Syria, espionage cell arrested by Manbij Military Council

MABBUG (MANBIJ), Syria – With the DAA’s security forces continuing to track down and counter Turkish intelligence activities and sleeper cells in all regions of North and East Syria, anti-terrorist units of the Mabbug Military Council (MMC), part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, have arrested members of intelligence and espionage cells belonging to the Turkish occupation intelligence services.

The cell members were carrying out espionage and planning to carry out terrorist acts in the city of Mabbug (Manbij) and its countryside. The cells were monitoring and photographing military locations and forwarded the intelligence to Turkish intelligence services.

According to Kurdish TV station Ronahi, cell member Abo Hussein admitted that he was monitoring and filming military locations and send the photos and films to the Turkish intelligence. Muhammad Tawfiq Buzan admitted his involvement in terrorism by dealing and communicating with the Turkish occupation and photographing military locations and sending them to Turkey in exchange for US Dollars. Majid Ali Darwish also admitted that he was working for the Turkish occupation on planning to assassinate some notable figures in the city of Mabbug (Manbij).

Related: Syrian regime spy cell arrested by Internal Security Forces, cell members admit carrying out killings and bombings


Mabbug (Manbij) is majority-Arab in the eastern countryside of Aleppo, west of the Euphrates River, and lies adjacent to the important M4 highway which connects west to east Syria. It was occupied and terrorized for three years by ISIS. After a three-month battle, the local MMC and SDF were able to liberate Mabbug from ISIS in August 2016. The city is governed by a democratic civil council made out of Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Circassians, and an Armenian. For Turkey, the city is important because it wants to push the SDF from its borders and cut it off from other DAA cities and regions. Turkey still intends to create a safe zone along the border, one of the claimed goals by Turkish President Erdoğan for the October 2019 invasion.

Syrian and Turkish intelligence and the Syriacs

Turkey is keen to take down the DAA and portray its democratic model and decentralized administration as a failure as such a model of inclusive participation might serve as example for Kurds, Syriacs, and other components within its own borders. Moreover, such a democratic and secular model might serve as an alternative to the Syrian Baath Regime. Taking down the Syrian Baath Regime is not (anymore) high on Turkey’s priority list.

By planting a network of intelligence agents and recruiting local operatives in the regions of North and East Syria, Turkey intends to end the state of relative stability which the region has experienced for years. Through covert intelligence operations within the DAA, Turkey, an Syria for that matter, seeks to create dissent and sow discord between the components partnering in the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) and its military wing the Syrian Democratic Forces.

An example regarding sabotage of Syriac school rights by intelligence services is the case of the introduction by the DAA of a Syriac curriculum on Syriac private schools in 2018. Syriacs affiliated with the DAA suspect Syrian and Turkish intelligence of sabotaging the imposition of the Syriac curriculum. Syrian intelligence pressured the Syriac Orthodox Church administration to taunt the introduction for years. Untill today, the Syrian Baath curriculum is taught at those schools in Arabic.

On the day the DAA wanted to take over the Syriac private schools and introduce the Syriac curriculum, Syriacs affiliated with the DAA suspect Syrian intelligence of organizing a successful protest in the streets of Zalin (Qamishli). The introduction of the Syriac curriculum has since then been postponed, but not cancelled. Protesters were also seen making Turkish nationalist symbols with their hands which might indicate Turkish intelligence involvement.

Dr. Thomas Schmidinger, lecturer at the University of Vienna, commented on the conflict around the Syriac schools at a conference on the history and future of northeastern Syria organized by the Kurdish Friendship Group in the European Parliament and the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs:

“This conflict was used by the Syrian regime to accuse the Kurds of oppressing the Christians and Christian organizations who were close to the Syrian regime, told a lot of… propaganda lies about the conflict.”

Although the Kurdish component in the DAA also had to deal with Syrian and Turkish intelligence, it was much more successful in introducing a Kurdish curriculum in state schools it took over in the DAA.