Erdoğan urges US to hand SDF commander to Turkey

SDF commander Mazloum Kobani became the source of a fresh rift between Turkey and the U.S., with Ankara calling on Washington to extradite him if he enters the U.S. due to the "terrorist being sought with a red notice."

Duvar English

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has urged the United States to hand a commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to Turkey, saying that he is a "terrorist sought with red notice."

"The U.S. needs to hand this Mazloum code-named terrorist, who is sought with a red notice, to us," Erdoğan told state broadcaster TRT on Oct. 24, as he referred to SDF commander Mazloum Kobani, whose legal name is Ferhat Abdi Şahin and whom Turkey has been seeking with a red notice.

Kobani became a subject of a rift between Ankara and Washington, following Turkey's Operation Peace Spring in northern Syria against People's Protection Units (YPG), which is the leading group in the SDF.

Although Turkey's military offensive was made available by U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria's north, the offensive increased tensions between Ankara and Washington, with the latter calling on the former to end it.

The NATO allies reached a deal on Oct. 17 during U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's visit to Ankara, which foresaw Turkey pausing its operation in exchange for YPG militants leaving the area.

Washington's main ally in the fight against ISIS was the SDF, which is perceived as a terrorist organization by Turkey due to its links with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by Ankara, Washington and the European Union.

Kobani's name was mentioned in the unusually undiplomatic letter sent to Erdoğan by Trump, which drew criticism from Turkish officials.

“General Mazloum is willing to negotiate with you, and he is willing to make concessions that they would never have made in the past. I am confidentially enclosing a copy of his letter to me, just received,” read the letter that surfaced on Oct. 16.

During his interview on Oct. 24, Erdoğan slammed the letter.

"We told Trump that we are 'disappointed in you, because you are exchanging letters with a terrorist and you sent that letter to us as an attachment.' He couldn't say anything," Erdoğan said, while urging the U.S. to abide by the agreement concerning extradition of criminals signed between Ankara and Washington.

"The U.S. needs to hand this guy to us, because that's what's required when someone's sought with a red warrant. I told this to my Justice Minister and I think they will ask for it. They need to give him to us. We are working on that," he also said.

Erdoğan's remarks came a day after Republican and Democratic U.S. senators asked the State Department to quickly provide a visa for Kobani so that he could visit the United States to discuss the situation in the country.

Also on Oct. 23, Trump thanked Kobani on Twitter as he commented on the ceasefire in northern Syria, while saying "I look forward to seeing you soon."

Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun, meanwhile, "expressed concern" over the treatment of Kobani "as a legitimate political figure by certain U.S. officials and politicians."

"This individual is a senior leader of the PKK, which the United States and others consider a terrorist organization, and a fugitive from justice," Altun said, adding that he is "the subject of an outstanding Interpol red notice."

"He is wanted for multiple terror attacks targeting the Turkish security forces, a NATO army, as well as civilians," he also said.

'US needs to extradite Kobani if he enters US'

Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül also commented on the issue, saying that should Kobani enters the U.S., he needs to be extradited to Turkey.

Saying that there is a red warrant on Kobani that's valid in 196 countries, Gül noted that the issue was conveyed to relevant U.S. authorities via Turkish Foreign Ministry on Oct. 24.

"Since he is being sought with a red warrant by Interpol, he needs to be apprehended and extradited to Turkey if he enters the U.S. Necessary communications will be established as soon as he enters the U.S. for the application of a temporary arrest procedure," Gül told journalists in the southeastern province of Urfa on Oct. 25.

'It's unacceptable for our allies to talk to a terrorist'

Another minister to slam the U.S. was Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who said that it's "unacceptable for our allies to meet a terrorist who is sought with a red arrest warrant."

"High level talks, in particular, can't take place," Çavuşoğlu told journalists in Azerbaijan's capital Baku on Oct. 25, adding that talking to "terrorists in a legitimate manner would pave the way for discussions with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as well."

"Entering a dialogue or engaging with terrorists became a tradition. We notified the U.S. on the issue with a diplomatic note. We told them that the terrorist that they are in contact with is being sought by Interpol," he also said.

Reiterating Turkey's previous criticisms against NATO, Çavuşoğlu said that the organization "needs to pick Turkey's side instead of those of terrorists."