Homeland Security

U.S. Journalist Reportedly Escapes Al-Qaeda in Syria, Then Is Arrested by Turkey

Conflicting reports are emerging this morning about an American journalist, Lindsey Snell, who reportedly escaped al-Qaeda custody — or was possibly rescued — in Syria two days ago, but was arrested yesterday by Turkish authorities, who accused her of being a CIA spy.

Snell’s biography notes she has worked for MSNBC, VICE News, ABC News, the Discovery Channel, and Amnesty International, among others.

This situation unfolds as the political and diplomatic relationship between Turkey and the U.S. is rapidly devolving following the attempted coup in the NATO country last month.

Anadolu Agency reports today:

A U.S. citizen was remanded in custody for trying to enter Turkey illegally from Syria, Hatay Governor said Sunday.

Ercan Topaca told Anadolu Agency, Snell Lindsteyler [sic], a journalist, was detained in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay’s Altinozu district near the Syria border.

“A U.S. journalist was captured while she was trying to cross the border illegally; she was taken to court and remanded. The trial phase is ongoing. For now, we do not know if she is a spy or not,” Governor Topaca said.

He said U.S. helicopters were seen flying over the border to pick up the journalist before she was caught by Turkish officials.

Lindsteyler has a residence permit in Turkey, Topaca said, adding that she was caught on the grounds that she crossed Syria illegally from Turkey and then tried to reenter Turkey illegally.

Pro-Erdogan media are already describing Snell as an intelligence agent:

This situation is happening just days after a NASA employee was also arrested by Turkey:

This is a strange reversal. Just yesterday, other Turkish media announced that Turkey had been involved in her rescue from Syria. From a Hürriyet Daily News report:

A female intelligence agent from the United States has been saved by Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) soldiers after a two-day operation on the Syrian border, according to a report. Drones and helicopters participated in the operation to save the agent, who had been wounded in Syria.

Two U.S. helicopters landed in a village in the Yayladağı district of the southern province of Hatay on Aug. 5, prompting locals to call officials and report the landing. The Hatay Governor’s Office responded by saying that they were aware of the incident, daily Hürriyet reported on Aug. 7.

According to the daily, the U.S. agent, whose name was not revealed as she was on a confidential operation, was assigned to a task in Syria and wounded on Aug. 3, after which she called for evacuation. She reportedly sent her coordinates to U.S. officials, allowing them to determine her exact location.

She was determined to be in the region of the Turkmen Mountains bordering the Yayladağı district and an operation was launched to save her.

She was initially told to approach the Turkish border, as U.S. officials contacted the Turkish General Staff to coordinate throughout the rescue operation.

None of this information has been independently confirmed, and in fact, a friend of Snell who claims to have spoken with her since her escape/rescue denies it:

Just a few days ago, Snell was chronicling her abduction by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the recently rebranded Jabhat al-Nusra Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, on her Twitter feed:

Having her phone presumably would have allowed U.S. authorities to geolocate her position.

Just a month ago, Snell was touting her access to JFS:

Snell’s abduction by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham would be unusual, for she has been fairly outspoken in her support for the Syrian rebels fighting alongside JFS, as seen in this video short from December 2014 published by Vocativ:

This ongoing episode exposes the growing tensions between Turkey and the U.S.. This is a remarkable turnaround from when President Obama hailed Turkey as a “model for the world” while receiving Erdogan at the White House in April 2009.

During Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, Obama touted his relationship with Erdogan. Obama identified Erdogan as one of his top five international friends in an interview with Fareed Zakaria in January 2012.

Erdogan-Obama-Cannes-2011

At the time, the establishment media was eager to hype the Obama-Erdogan relationship as one of Obama’s top foreign policy successes. His administration’s Arab Spring agenda was beginning to fall apart during an election year; the intent was to draw attention to an ostensible success. Those days are long gone.

Today in Turkey, there are daily arrests of journalists. Tens of thousands of government employees are losing their positions and being accused of assisting the coup effort. Rallies have also been stirred up by Erdogan’s AKP Party, which called for the removal of U.S. forces from the NATO Incirlik air base. U.S. anti-ISIS operations are based there.

Just a day after Erdogan was featured in a massive Nuremberg-style rally, and as Turkey descends into an Erdogan cult-of-personality paranoia state, the strange evolving story of Lindsey Snell’s arrest seems reminiscent of the arrest of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian by Iran.

Perhaps Erdogan is looking for his own planeload of cash?

Stay tuned for more developments.