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Greece rules to extradite Turkish officers

December 6, 2016

A court in Athens has agreed to extradite three of the eight servicemen who fled Turkey for Greece after the failed July coup. On Monday, the court had rejected Turkey's extradition request for three others.

Griechenland Geflohene türkische Soldaten nach Putsch
Image: picture-alliance/abaca/A. Mehmet

On Tuesday, the appeals court in Athens ruled that three officers should be sent back to Turkey for "attempting to topple the regime" of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a judicial source said.

Turkey has asked Greece to extradite eight officers who fled by helicopter in July for their alleged roles in a coup bid that officials claim was orchestrated by the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. The men also stand charged with an alleged attempt on Erdogan's life.

The court has now ruled that some of the soldiers should stand trial for three of the four crimes for which they are accused. The crimes include involvement in the coup attempt, impeding a parliamentary session and seizure of a helicopter.

The court determined that it had not received conclusive evidence linking the men to an attack on Erdogan.

The decision comes a day after different judges rejected Turkey's request to extradite three other soldiers, arguing that authorities had not provided sufficient evidence and that sending them back would put their personal safety at risk.

All eight soldiers deny involvement in the attempt to dislodge Erdogan from power. The three pilots affected by Tuesday's ruling said they would appeal the decision, maintaining that they will not receive a fair trial in Turkey, where tens of thousands of people have been detained since the coup, including top generals. The men will be held in custody until then.

The officers had requested asylum after landing a military helicopter in the northern city of Alexandroupoli on July 16. Greece refused to grant them asylum in September, a decision that the officers are also currently appealing.

Ankara outraged

Officials in Ankara were outraged by Monday's decision not to extradite three of the officers. "Greece is in the NATO alliance with Turkey and is a NATO ally," Defense Minister Fikri Isik said." "Our expectation from the Greek government is to display every kind of effort possible for them to be returned."

Turkey could still appeal, although any final decision rests with the Greek minister of justice.

Griechenland Türkische Soldaten in Alexandroupoli
All eight Turkish servicemen are appealing for asylum in Greece following the failed July coup attempt.Image: picture-alliance/AA/A. Mehmet

The issue has strained relations between the two neighbors, which are at odds over a series of issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and the fate of the divided island of Cyprus. Greece also depends on Turkey to stem the flow of tens of thousands refugees to its shores.

Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, a spokesman for Greece's government, said authorities would abide by the court's rulings on the case "irrespective of the political cost."

It was revealed on Tuesday that a prosecutor had lodged an appeal against Monday's ruling, arguing that the case should be heard by Greece's Supreme Court. A decision on the appeal is expected within eight days. The three officers will remain in custody until a decision is made.

The court is expected to decide the fate of the remaining two servicemen on Thursday.

A lawyer for the three men slammed Tuesday's ruling and said the prosecutor's decision to appeal Monday's unanimous ruling for the other three was equally unacceptable.

"It wouldn't bother me if it was just unusual," Christos Mylonopoulos said of the prosecutor's appeal. "What bothers me greatly is that it is not grounded in law."

He said Turkey's reaction to Monday's ruling played a part in Tuesday's decision.

Several Turkish nationals, including civil servants and businesspeople, have reportedly sought refuge in Greece following the coup bid. Last month, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said an unprecedented number of Turkish NATO officers had requested asylum in other alliance member states.

On Tuesday, DW revealed that dozens of high-ranking Turkish NATO officers are among the more than 125,000 people whom Erdogan accuses of helping launch the failed coup against him in July. The president has called them "terrorist soldiers" and ordered them to return home.

dm/mkg, se (AP, AFP, Reuters)

Escaping Erdogan's Turkey