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Syrian Kurdish leader detained in Prague on Turkey’s request

February 25, 2018

FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2016 file photo, then co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Salih Muslim addresses journalists at the European Parliament in Brussels. Turkey's official news agency, Anadolu, and a Syrian Kurdish official said Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, that Czech authorities have detained Muslim under an Interpol red notice based on Ankara's request for his arrest. Muslim was put on Turkey's most-wanted list earlier in February with a reward for $1 million. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)

BEIRUT (AP) — Czech authorities detained a former leader of a Syrian Kurdish political party under an Interpol red notice that was based on Turkey’s request for his arrest, Turkish and Syrian Kurdish officials said Sunday.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Salih Muslim, former co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, or PYD, was “caught.” Speaking in Sanliurfa Sunday, Erdogan said, “Our hope, God willing, is that the Czech Republic will hand him over to Turkey.”

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said Turkey requested Muslim’s detention for extradition after locating him in a Prague hotel. Bozdag called Muslim the “terrorist head.”

A Kurdish official close to Muslim, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the former PYD leader was in Prague attending a conference. After a Turkish participant took a photograph of him, Czech police detained the Syrian politician Saturday, following a request by Turkey.

Czech police say that have arrested and placed in detention a 67-year-old foreigner at the request of Turkey’s Interpol. No further details were immediately released by Czech police.

Muslim was put on Turkey’s most-wanted list earlier in February with a $1 million reward.

The Turkish justice ministry said Muslim was being tried in absentia for his alleged involvement in a March 2016 car bomb attack on Turkey’s capital, which killed 36 people and injured 125.

Turkey considers the PYD a “terrorist group” linked to outlawed Kurdish insurgents fighting within Turkey’s own borders for more than three decades.

The party is the leading political Kurdish force in northern Syria, and Muslim remains highly influential even after stepping down as co-chair last year.

The PYD condemned in a statement Muslim’s detention, saying the move is an “illegal and immoral act by Czech authorities” and calling for his immediate release.

The group also accused Turkey of adopting “dirty methods in chasing personalities that are playing a role in the fight against terrorism,” highlighting Muslim’s major role in mobilizing international opinion in the fight against the Islamic State group.

The United States has been backing the PYD’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units or YPG, in combatting the extremist IS. The alliance has tensed relations between Washington and Ankara, who are NATO allies.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria, seeking to rout the YPG from the enclave of Afrin.

The Kurdish official said the former PYD leader was invited to Prague to take part in a conference held once every six months to discuss issues linked to the Middle East such as the Syrian crisis, Turkey, and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The justice ministry said it was submitting an extradition request for Muslim. An extradition request would have to be approved by a Czech court and by the justice minister. Muslim is a Syrian citizen.

Turkey shares a 911-kilometer border with Syria. The YPG controls much of the territory along the border.

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Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul and Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report.

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