Syrian Kurd held in Prague
Brussels-based Salih Muslim is a former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant Kurdish political party in Syria and the political wing of the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group with ties to Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has demanded autonomy from Ankara for decades.
Muslim is officially wanted by Turkey over a February 2016 bombing in Ankara that killed 29 people and was blamed on Kurdish militants.
He has been charged in absentia and faces 30 life sentences if found guilty. Muslim denies the charges.
The YPG is the main force in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting Isis.
The US has had high praise for the organisation’s military and political wings, despite Turkish criticism.
After a Turkish participant at a Prague conference took a photograph of Muslim, Czech police detained him following a request by Turkey.
Islam had reportedly been speaking against Turkey’s invasion of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwestern Syria.
“Ankara Interpol staff were informed of the arrest. The police will take the standard steps in line with the law,” the police said.
Turkey is reportedly filing an extradition request, which will have to be approved by a court and the justice minister.
Muslim features on a Turkish interior ministry wanted list, with a US$1-million bounty for his arrest.
An Interpol red notice is a request to detain someone for extradition but it is not itself a criminal charge.
The EU has not labelled the Syrian Kurdish organisations as terrorist groups and it has rejected similar extradition requests by Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Our hope, God willing, is that the Czech Republic will hand him over to Turkey.”
Since stepping down from the PYD, Muslim has been a foreign affairs representative of the Movement for a Democratic Society, the coalition trying to run the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria, which threatens Turkey’s grip on its own southeast.
The movement announced: “This act is contrary to the general values and international laws. The Turkish State has no right to prosecute or arrest any person who is not one of its citizens.” Muslim is a Syrian citizen.
Should Muslim be extradited to Turkey, it would be its biggest extradition success since the detention of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan in a 1999 operation in Kenya.
YPG combatants. Picture credit: Wikimedia