Turks turn up the heat on Kurdish militants
ANKARA // Turkish authorities issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday for the leader of a US-backed Syrian Kurdish group, as president Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed a threat to oust Syrian Kurds from a town in northern Syria.
Prosecutors in Ankara issued warrants for 48 Kurdish militants and leaders altogether, including Saleh Muslim who heads the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.
The warrants were issued in connection to a suicide bomb attack that struck Ankara in February, killing 29 people. The attack was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a radical splinter group of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But Ankara prosecutors believe the order for the attack came from the PKK’s “highest leadership” and that TAK was merely a “front group” for the organisation, Anadolu said.
Turkey considers the PYD and its armed wing, known as the YPG, as an extension of the PKK in Syria. The United States, however, works closely with the YPG on the ground in northern Syria in the fight against extremists.
Ankara sent ground troops into northern Syria in August to support Turkey-backed Syrian Arab opposition forces in clearing a border area of ISIL militants and in curbing the PYD and YPG’s territorial expansion.
On Tuesday, Mr Erdogan reiterated that these Arab opposition forces were close to capturing the key town of Al Bab from ISIL. Once that is achieved, Mr Erdogan said, the troops will head toward the town of Manbij, which is currently held by the US-backed Kurdish forces.
The Kurdish forces drove ISIL from Manbij earlier this year, but Turkey says it was promised that they would leave after the town’s capture and retreat east of the Euphrates river.
“Why will we go to Manbij? Not because we are wild about the place but because the PYD and YPG are there,” Mr Erdogan said. “They say a number of them have left. But we want the place to be totally emptied of the PYD and YPG.”
The prosecutors who issued the arrest warrants argued that the February attack was ordered by PKK leaders, including two who are in exile in Europe and two who are believed to be in northern Iraq. Muslim’s alleged role in the attack was not clear.
The PKK leaders are already wanted in Turkey but it is the first known warrant for Muslim, who visited Turkey in 2014 and met with Turkish officials.
Ibrahim Ibrahim, the media director of the PYD office in Europe, said the group was not concerned about the arrest warrant.
“What right does Erdogan have to issue an arrest warrant against a Syrian citizen?” he asked, saying it was an example of “Turkish hatred” towards Kurds.
Earlier this month, Muslim said that reconciliation with Turkey was “impossible” so long as Mr Erdogan was in power.
He said his aim was to build a “democratic Syria ... No other way. A democratic federal Syria”.
* Associated Press, Agence France-Presse
Updated: November 22, 2016 04:00 AM