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Salih Muslim: Turkey issues arrest warrant for Syrian Kurdish leader

Arrests warrants were also issued for fugitive PKK leaders Cemil Bayik, Murat Karayilan and Fehman Huseyin
Salih Muslim, leader of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) during an interview in southern France, on 1 December 2013

Turkey on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for the leader of the main Syrian Kurdish political party over a deadly bombing in Ankara in February blamed on Kurdish militants.

Arrest warrants were issued for the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) leader Salih Muslim as well as several fugitive leaders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) over the 17 February bombing against military vehicles which killed at least 28 people, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Muslim is believed to travel frequently including numerous trips to Brussels. His last visit to Turkey according to Turkish media reports dates back to 2015.

In the early days of Syria's civil war, Muslim was a relatively regular visitor to Ankara which saw him as a possible ally. 

Turkey now accuses him of backing its enemy Assad, accusations the PYD denies.

As well as Muslim, arrest warrants were issued for fugitive PKK leaders Cemil Bayik, Murat Karayilan and Fehman Huseyin over the bombing, Anadolu said. 

All three are believed to be at the group's paramilitary rear bases in mountainous northern Iraq. 

Washington backs Kurdish groups

Turkey had blamed the PYD and its military wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), for the attack which left at least 28 people dead and was followed by another devastating bombing in the capital in March.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) - a radical splinter group of the better-known PKK - claimed the suicide bombing, saying that it was in response to security operations in the southeast.

But Anadolu said that Ankara prosecutors believe that the order for the attack came from the PKK's "highest leadership" and the TAK was merely a "front group" for the organisation.

Turkey considers the YPG and the PYD to be terror groups, accusing them of seeking to carve out an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria and working with President Bashar al-Assad.

But while the United States sees the PKK as a terror group, it works closely with the YPG as its main ally on the ground in the fight against Islamic State militants in northern Syria.

The dispute over the YPG and PYD has raised tensions between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Washington in the past.

'What right?'

Ibrahim Ibrahim, the media director of the PYD office in Europe, told AFP in Beirut that 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.

In comments to AFP in Stockholm earlier this month, Muslim said that reconciliation with Turkey was "impossible" so long as Erdogan was in power.

He said the PYD's aim was to build a "democratic Syria... No other way. A democratic federal Syria."

While the Turkish authorities have for some time made no secret of their enmity toward Muslim, this is the first time Ankara has issued an arrest warrant for him. 

The arrest warrants also target two Kurdish figures residing in Brussels, Zubeyir Aydar and Remzi Kartal, who are both prominent in the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) which Ankara sees as a branch of the PKK.

Both were arrested by Belgian authorities in March 2010, in a move that pleased Turkey, but were later released. 

Erdogan has lashed out in recent weeks against EU states - especially Belgium and Germany - who he has accused of failing to hand over hundreds of wanted Kurdish militants.