ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkey blocked access to YouTube on Thursday, hours after a recording of a sensitive national security meeting was leaked by an anonymous user on the video sharing site.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency confirmed the ban as an "administrative decision" by the Turkish Telecommunications Authority, while the Foreign Ministry issued a statement promising the "heaviest punishment possible" against the source of the leaks.
"Eavesdropping on a top secret meeting and leaking recordings is a wretched attack and a grave offense on national security," the statement read, according to Anadolu.
A check of YouTube in Istanbul brought up the message: "Access has been blocked by the Turkish Telecommunications Authority."
Ankara's chief prosecutor reportedly opened an investigation into the leaks, working with the Office of Crimes against the Constitution.
The move came a week after Turkey’s telecommunications authority blocked Twitter -- a ban suspended by a Turkish court on Wednesday -- and three days before crucial local elections.
In the recording, which has not been authenticated, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, National Intelligence Organization chief Hakan Fidan and Deputy Chief of General Staff Yasar Guler are purported to be heard discussing a possible military intervention in Syria.
“Justification can be created,” says a voice, allegedly Fidan’s, according to a report in the newspaper Today’s Zaman. “The matter is to create the will.”
The conversation revolves around a potential intervention around the tomb of Suleyman Shah, the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, which is housed in Jaber Castle in Syria's Aleppo province. The tomb, while inside Syria’s borders, has officially been Turkish territory since 1921; 25 Turkish soldiers maintain a permanent presence in the castle.
Fighters from the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria surrounded the castle several weeks ago, hoisting their flag on the bridge leading to the fortress, prompting Turkey to authorize its soldiers stationed there to return fire if attacked. The standoff raised the paradoxical prospect of Turkey retaliating against fighters seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom the Turkish government fiercely opposes.
“An operation against [the militants] 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 said to be that of a senior foreign ministry official says.
The recording comes amid a flurry of leaked recordings that have harassed the government as the country moves into election season, beginning with municipal elections Sunday.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintains the recordings are part of a “vile plot” to undermine his government and led his government to block Twitter Friday.
On Wednesday, a Turkish court suspended the controversial ban following an appeal by the country's bar association. The state-run Anadolu news agency labeled it a "temporary injunction," though senior members of the ruling party said they would abide by the order. Twitter continued its own efforts to reverse the policy.
Turks quickly turned to other social media sites to get around the latest ban, posting the leaks on the video-sharing site Vimeo.
The leak is likely to spark fresh controversy. The government’s Syria policy is increasingly unpopular in Turkey – struggling under the weight of more than half a million Syrian refugees and regular cross-border flare-ups – with many fearing that the country could be drawn into its southern neighbor’s three-year conflict.
Johnson is a special correspondent.