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Czech court releases Syrian Kurdish leader

February 27, 2018

A Czech court has released Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim, who is wanted by Turkey. Turkey's ambassador said the decision may impact relations with a NATO ally.

Salih Muslim in Prague
Image: Reuters/D. W. Cerny

A Czech court on Tuesday released Syrian Kurdish leader Salih Muslim, who Turkey wanted extradited on terrorism charges.

The founder and former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant Kurdish political party in Syria, Muslim was detained in Prague on Saturday while attending a conference on the Middle East.

"The court accepted a promise by Mr. Muslim that he will remain on EU territory and will be attending court hearings," a court spokesperson said. 

The decision means that Turkey's extradition request can proceed and will be considered by Czech state prosecutors and courts, if the state attorney decides to go ahead. 

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).

Czech authorities release Salih Muslim

Turkey wants Muslim extradited on charges of being behind 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.

Before the court ruling, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told ruling party MPs it would be a "day of reckoning for our NATO ally the Czech Republic."

"We hope our ally will show the necessary solidarity and extradite this terrorist," he said. "Whatever happens, one thing is certain. Terror chiefs can no longer wander about as they wish."

Turkey's ambassador in Prague, Ahmet Necati Bigali, told HaberTurk television that the Czech court decision to release a "terrorist" may negatively impact bilateral relations.

Questionable detention

It was unclear why Czech authorities acted on the Turkish request to detain the popular Kurdish politician in the first place.

Muslim regularly travels around the EU. While the EU considers the PKK a terrorist organization, it does not recognize its Syrian affiliate, the PYD, as a terrorist organization. The PYD says it is independent from the PKK.

Prag Proteste Gerichtsgebäude Saleh Muslim
Kurds attended a rally in front of the court to support the PYD leader.Image: Reuters/D. W. Cerny

Press in the Czech Republic and Turkey had speculated over a possible swap of Muslim for two Czech nationals sentenced to more than six years in prison in Turkey last year on charges of fighting alongside the YPG in Syria.

Kurds across Europe had vowed to march on Prague by the thousands in the event he was further detained or extradited.

Since stepping down as the head of the PYD last year, 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. 

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cw/jil (AFP, Reuters)