Turkey has detained 11 people suspected of spying and abducting an Iranian political dissident on behalf of Tehran, the Turkish police said on Monday.
The announcement followed a rare public spat between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and top Iranian officials over Azerbaijan.
Agents from Turkey’s MIT intelligence service arrested the Turkish nationals following the disappearance in Istanbul of Iranian political dissident Habib Chaab, the police said.
The exiled Iranian opposition figure lived in Sweden and visited Turkey in October.
Iran’s state media officially reported his arrest in November but provided no details about how he ended up in Iranian custody.
Tehran accuses Chaab of involvement in an Arab separatist group known as the ASMLA.
The Turkish police said the suspects grabbed Chaab in Istanbul and smuggled him to the Iranian border region of Van before giving him up to Iranian officials.
The 11 Turkish suspects are accused of crimes including kidnapping, spying and assassinations allegedly carried out for a major Iranian drug trafficker.
The announcement comes on the heels of a public spat between the two regional powers linked to Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan in its victorious war with Armenia over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Attending a victory parade in Baku, Erdogan recited a poem last Thursday that Iranian officials said supported separatism among Iran’s large ethnic Azerbaijani minority.
Iranian authorities summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Tehran to complain about Erdogan’s “interventionist and unacceptable remarks”.
Turkey replied by summoning Iran’s ambassador to Ankara to protest the “baseless” claims.
Top Erdogan aide Fahrettin Altun also condemned Iran’s “offensive language toward our president” in a tweet Saturday.
Turkey and Iran have close and longstanding political and trade relations but find themselves on opposite sides of the war in Syria and have other regional disputes.
The six-week war over Azerbaijan’s disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave resulted in rockets and missiles hitting parts of northern Iran near the conflict zone.
Turkey supplied Azerbaijan with arms in the years preceding the conflict and backed it diplomatically during the war.
But Iran expressed repeated alarm during the fighting and sent Revolutionary Guards soldiers to the Azerbaijani border in October to keep the conflict from spilling over.