Turkish ministers condemn U.S. invite to Syrian Kurd commander

(Releads with ministers’ statements on Kobani)

Turkish ministers on Friday condemned a proposed visit to the United States by the leader of Syrian Kurdish forces that led the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, and called on him instead to be extradited to Turkey to face terrorism charges.

U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham, Chris Van Hollen and a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to the State Department on Wednesday demanding the speedy expedition of a visa to allow Mazloum Kobani, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to travel to the United States and brief the U.S government on the situation after Turkey’s cross-border offensive in Syria.

The Oct. 9 military operation targeted the SDF, which Ankara views as a terrorist organisation for its links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Kobani himself fought with the PKK in Turkey in the 1990s, a period of heavy conflict. The group began an armed struggle for Kurdish self-rule in the country in 1984. Some 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, most of them Kurds.

Turkey has issued a red notice for Kobani, and on Thursday Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on Washington to hand the commander over.

Following Erdoğan’s lead, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül said on Friday there were outstanding warrants for Kobani’s arrest in Turkey and the United States was obliged to abide by the red notice.

“The necessary correspondence will be delivered requiring (U.S. authorities) to detain Kobani as soon as he arrives,” said Gül.

“The Foreign Ministry has been in contact with the relevant U.S. authorities since Thursday,” he said.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu strongly criticised the invitation to Kobani, saying it was unacceptable that Washington should host the commander for a high-level visit and that this amounted to legitimising terrorists.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s media was up in arms over the notion of an SDF commander in the White House, with one pro-government columnist, Hakkı Öcal, calling on Turkish intelligence to “neutralise” Kobani within 48 hours.

Kobani “should be neutralised one way or another. If this can happen while he is under U.S. protection, that would be all the more chic,” Öcal said in a tweet.

“Another scandal from Twitter,” Turkish pro-government daily Sabah said in the headline of a report on Friday complaining that the social media company had granted Kobani a blue tick – the network’s way of verifying official accounts of people and organisations.

Kobani’s account, registered under the name Mazloum Abdi, quickly accrued more than 40,000 followers.

The verification came on the same week Kobani was both featured on Russia’s state-funded news network RT holding a video call with Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu, and when U.S. senators called on President Donald Trump to host the SDF leader in Washington.

Halk TV, a Turkish opposition-aligned news channel, called Shoygu’s conversation with Kobani a “scandalous move”, while other news sources reported the video call as a meeting between the Russian defence minister and a “terrorist chief”.

The United States lists the PKK as a terrorist organisation, but does not extend the same designation to the SDF and its affiliates, which U.S. troops fought alongside in the global coalition against ISIS. Russia has not declared the PKK to be a terrorist organisation.