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Turkey 'neutralises' PKK's former Syria chief: Erdogan

Turkish government says it hunted down and killed senior PKK member Halef al-Muhammed, also known as Sofi Nurettin
A member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party carries an automatic rifle on a road in the Qandil Mountains, the PKK headquarters in northern Iraq, on 22 June 2018 (AFP)
By in
Istanbul

Turkish intelligence has “neutralised” Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) former Syria head Halef al-Muhammed earlier this month in Iraq, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in a televised speech on Monday.

Turkish security sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Muhammed, whose alias was Sofi Nurettin, was targeted in an operation on 8 May.

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“He is the most senior official within the ranks of the PKK who has been eliminated,” one Turkish security source said. "He was a member of PKK's central committee."

Turkey has fought a guerilla war with the PKK since 1984, when the organisation first launched its armed campaign to carve out an independent Kurdish state. The group now says it wants greater autonomy for Kurds in Turkey.

The fighting is believed to have resulted in at least 40,000 deaths since the conflict began. Turkey, the European Union and the United States have designated the PKK as a terrorist group.

Nurettin was the general supervisor of the Syrian People’s Protection Units armed faction, the YPG, between 2015-2020, according to Turkish sources.

The sources claimed that last February he ordered the killing of 13 Turkish citizens during a Turkish military rescue operation in northern Iraq.

“Turkish intelligence has established a special unit to track his family and close associates in Iraq after he left Syria,” the security source said. “The unit revealed that he was operating in Iraq’s Gare region with PKK chief Murat Karayilan.”

Turkish sources said the PKK had been keeping quiet about Nurettin’s killing to prevent demoralisation within its ranks, as many of its members looked up to him.

Last February, Ankara said that 12 Turks were found executed, including kidnapped police officers and military personnel, in a cave in northern Iraq while 48 PKK militants were killed in an operation launched against the group. 

The hostages had been held for four years in the mountains of northern Iraq. Turkey said they were shot by their PKK captors as Turkish troops were about to stage a rescue operation.

A statement on a PKK website at the time said some prisoners it was holding, including Turkish intelligence, police and military personnel, had died during clashes in the area.