Sweden extradites to Turkey man convicted of terror links

REUTERS/Yves Herman
A woman holds a flag of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party)in central Brussels, Belgium, November 17, 2016.

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish authorities on Saturday arrested and jailed in Istanbul a convicted member of an outlawed militant group who was extradited from Sweden where he had fled, Turkey’s state-run news agency said.

The move comes as the NATO member continues to hold up Sweden and Finland’s bids to join the military alliance, pressing for the two Nordic countries to extradite suspected terrorists to Turkey. The Turkish foreign minister said this week that some progress had been made but “concrete steps” were still needed to win Turkey’s approval.

Anadolu news agency identified the man as Mahmut Tat, who was convicted of membership in an armed terror organization in 2015 and sentenced to more than six years in prison. Sweden confirmed the deportation but did not name the man.

“(It’s) a deportation case where an individual had his asylum application rejected,” Sweden’s migration minister, Maria Malmer Stenergard, told Swedish public broadcaster SVT.

Anadolu said Tat was flown from Stockholm to Istanbul overnight, fulfilling Turkey’s extradition request. SVT said the man had fled to Sweden following his conviction and lived in the west of the country where he worked in the restaurant industry.

Tat was convicted of being a member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has led a decades-long separatist insurgency in Turkey. The group is considered a terror organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

When Sweden and Finland dropped their longstanding policies of military nonalignment and applied for NATO membership in May, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promptly said his country would not accept them and accused the two Nordic countries of turning a blind eye to terrorism. Any decision on NATO enlargement requires approval by all alliance members.

Ahead of a historic NATO summit, the three countries signed a joint memorandum in June that prevented a Turkish veto. In the memorandum, the Nordic countries said they’d address Turkey’s extradition requests for people Turkey deems terrorists. Sweden and Finland said they “confirm” the PKK is a terror organization and promised “to not provide support” to its Syrian affiliate People’s Protection Units, or YPG. They also lifted an arms embargo on Turkey that was imposed following Turkey’s 2019 Syria operation against the YPG.

Sweden’s Malmer Stenergard stressed to SVT that the new government headed by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has played no part in the extradition decision.

“The government has no role in the (judicial) process that includes examination of asylum applications,” she told SVT. “This means that the government or an individual cabinet member may not intervene or influence responsible authorities or courts in their handling of individual cases.”

Swedish PM Kristersson, visited Turkey last month and pledged to work toward countering “terrorism” threats to Turkey.

The parliaments of Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify the NATO applications. The 28 other NATO states have already done so.