Saleh Muslim, a leader of the main Syrian Kurdish political party, has been arrested in the Czech capital Prague at the request of the Turkish government, the party announced Sunday.
Muslim reportedly was on Turkey's most-wanted list. Ankara had issued a warrant for his arrest in November 2016 after a court charged him with a litany of offenses, including “breaking the state and country’s unity.” New “red notices” were issued on February 13, with officials offering just over $1 million for his return.
Czech police confirmed that a 67-year-old man had been apprehended in Prague at the behest of Turkish Interpol, but did not specify the suspect’s name.
In a statement Sunday, the PYD party insisted that the prominent Kurdish figure has “full citizenship rights” as a Syrian and was in Europe to conduct official business engagements. The party, of which Muslim was the former head, accused the Turkish state of “demanding the arrest of individuals who are not citizens, without any legal justifications.”
Tensions between Turkey and Kurdish groups have escalated sharply in recent weeks, following Ankara’s launch of a military offensive last month in Syria’s Afrin region against the Kurdish YPG, an armed associate of the PYD, which it has considered a border threat.
Turkish officials have claimed the PYD and YPG, despite being armed and allied with the United States, were part of the outlawed PKK terrorist group.
Officials in Ankara were in the process of securing the extradition of Muslim, who remained in detention in Prague. According to the pro-government Turkish media outlet Daily Sabah, his arrest came over the weekend after its sister publication Sabah reported he had been sighted at a Marriott hotel in Prague where he reportedly conducted two meetings.
Turkish officials accused Muslim of sharing fake photos at a news conference in Belgium last week, claiming he used photos from the rebel-held Syrian region of Eastern Ghouta – which has been under heavy attack from Syrian government forces – to illustrate abuses being waged by Turkish forces in Afrin.
However, Kurdish activists have long claimed abuses by the Turkish leadership, insisting they have been persecuted.