Middle East

Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim arrested in Prague on Turkey’s request

Czech police have detained a Syrian Kurdish political leader on an Interpol red notice put out by Turkey, Turkish and Syrian Kurdish officials said Sunday.

Salih Muslim is a former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant Kurdish political party in Syria.

The PYD is the political wing of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers to be a “terrorist group” with ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting a three-decade-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

The YPG is the main force in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting against the “Islamic State” (IS).

Muslim was in Prague on Saturday to attend a conference.

After a Turkish participant took a photograph, Czech police detained Muslim, following the request by Turkey.

Czech police confirmed Muslim’s arrest.

“Ankara Interpol staff were informed of the arrest. The police will take the standard steps in line with the law,” they said in a statement.

Turkish state news agency Anadolu reported that Ankara was filing an extradition request with Czech officials, which would have to be approved by a court and the justice minister.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said:  “Our hope, God willing, is that the Czech Republic will hand him over to Turkey.”

High-level Kurdish arrest

Since stepping down as the head of the PYD, Muslim has been a foreign representative of TEV-DEM, the governing political coalition in the autonomous Kurdish region set up in Syria during the civil war there.

Should Muslim be extradited to Turkey, he would be one of the highest-ranking Kurds to be captured since the 1999 arrest of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan.

Muslim has been wanted by Turkey in connection with a February 2016 bombing in Ankara that killed 30 people. He denies any connection to the attack, which was claimed by a hard-line PKK splinter group.

Earlier in February, Turkey elevated Muslim to its most-wanted list, and offered a $1 million (€810,000) reward for his capture. He faces 30 life sentences if convicted.

The PYD said in a statement that Muslim’s detention was “illegal and immoral act by Czech authorities.”

It also accused Turkey of using “dirty methods in chasing personalities that are playing a role in the fight against terrorism,” a reference to Muslim’s role in mobilizing Kurds against IS.

Muslim, a Syrian citizen, speaks Turkish and received training as a chemical engineer at Istanbul Technical University.

Until 2015, Turkish officials were in regular contact with him as Ankara pursued a peace process with the PKK that ultimately broke down.

Muslim regularly moves around Europe, where he has been based for several years.

He was reported to have been in the Czech capital to attend a conference on the Middle East.

At the top of the conference agenda was the situation in Afrin, a Syrian Kurdish enclave against which Turkey launched an offensive last month.

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