Turkish media reported on Sunday morning that Salih Muslim, the former Kurdish leader of the Democratic Union Party in Syria, has been arrested in Prague.
Muslim was influential in leading the Kurdish drive to carve out an autonomous area in eastern Syria, which has become a key partner of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State.
Czech police confirmed that they had detained a person due to an Interpol request.
“Prague police detained on Saturday night on the basis of a prior consent of a public prosecutor a 67-year-old foreigner,” the statement said. “After the necessary actions he was placed in a police cell. Ankara was informed of his international detention.”
The Movement for a Democratic Society, which is an umbrella governing group in eastern Syria that includes the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PYD), released a statement on Sunday condemning the “illegal incident” in Czech Republic.
The statement claimed: “What happened in Czech is an immoral act and contrary to the values of international norms and reflects the extent of Turkish elements to penetrate into the European arena.” The statement calls for demonstrations against Turkey and support to release Muslim at the UN.
According to Turkish news agency Anadolu, Muslim was attending an event in Prague and staying at the Marriott Hotel. He was detained late in the day on February 24 after Interpol notified Czech authorities that Muslim is wanted in Turkey.
Turkey will now request that he be arrested and extradited. “Turkish authorities from the Ministry of Justice and General Directorate of Security, who previously requested Czech authorities to detain Muslim after he was spotted, said they have started procedures for his extradition to Turkey,” the Daily Sabah reported.
The former Syrian Kurdish leader has been traveling extensively in Europe and was seen at meetings in Brussels and Geneva.
On February 19, he gave an interview to Deutsche Welle discussing the ongoing conflict in Afrin between the Kurdish People’s Protection Units and Turkish army. He discussed the chance that the Syrian regime might enter into the Kurdish area of northwest Syria to help stop the Turkish offensive. During the interview he said there was no deal at the moment.
He claimed, “The Turkish government is occupying a part of Syria and trying to occupy part of Afrin and make demographic change.” He asserted that even though the Kurds might seek help from Damascus because they are “part of Syria,” that they would not let Iranian-backed groups such as Hezbollah into Afrin. He advocated for a democratic Syria.
Muslim was born in 1951 near Kobani in Syria. He studied engineering in Turkey before becoming a Kurdish political activist. In 2010 he joined the PYD and returned to Syria after the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. The PYD and the YPG with which it is affiliated played a key role in fighting ISIS in 2014 and eventually became partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces and the US-led coalition that liberated Raqqa in 2017.
In November 2016 Turkey issued an arrest warrant for Muslim and several other leaders of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The arrest warrant accused Muslim of playing a role in a February 2016 car bombing that killed 29 people in Ankara. The bombing targeted Turkish security forces. A ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK had ended in 2015 and the Ankara bombing was alleged to be part of a PKK terror campaign against Turkey. Ankara accuses the PYD and PKK of being linked.
The reported detention of Muslim will be an important test of Czech-Turkish relations as well as the fraught relationship between Turkey and the European Union.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Turkey’s use of Interpol arrest warrants after Turkey sought to detain a German writer in Spain. Turkey has sought the arrest of dozens in Europe after a failed 2016 coup and European lawmakers have been critical of extraditing suspects to Turkey.