FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

News

Is the East Mediterranean the Next Front in the War On Terror?

The case of some suspected far-left militants suggests that it might be.

A poster campaigning against the extradition of the hunger-strikers back to Turkey

Greek and Turkish collaborative efforts to fight terrorism have been in the spotlight since June, when Turkish dissident Bulut Yayla was abducted from Athens and somehow wound up in Istanbul. Yayla allegedly had links to the DHKP-C, a far-left group that is banned in Turkey and which has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings. The Greek police denied all knowledge of the extradition, but evidence from various reports suggested that was bullshit. Now it seems that the FBI were were involved, not only having operatives in Greece, but also by requesting the extradition of suspects to the US.

Annoncering

Yayla is still being held by the Turkish police on terrorism charges. His lawyer has been trying to go to Greece for the past six months in order to turn in crucial evidence relevant to the investigation into his abduction, but has been unable to get the necessary visa. This is pretty unheard of for Turks wanting to travel to Greece and without the help of a lawyer you can't imagine Yayla is too optimistic about getting released any time soon.

Until recently, other Turkish activists currently residing in Greece looked set for a similar fate: extradition followed by inevitable imprisonment. A further nine were arrested in the days following the apprehension of a boat carrying guns and explosives from the Greek island of Chios to Turkey, with the DHKP-C the likely recipients. Since then, the nine Turkish suspects have been on a hunger strike that lasted more than 50 days to protest against their possible deportation. One, Mehmet Yayla, has particularly pressing concerns: he was tortured by the authorities and survived two assassination attempts in Turkey before he fled the country. Nevertheless, he was looking at the prospect of being sent back into the not-so-welcoming arms of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan.

However, the Greek courts, under severe pressure from the international community, decided not to proceed with the extraditions, to avoid violating the bits of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that say that it's not OK to torture people (and, by extension, allow people to be extradited to places where they might get tortured).

Annoncering

Now, it appears that the US are involved. The DHKP-C are listed as a terrorist organisation by both the US and the EU and after the group claimed responsibility for the bombing of an American embassy in Ankara, the States' interest in the extradition attempts intensified. The boat seizure also means that the threat posed by far-left armed groups in the Eastern Mediterranean is currently being taken very seriously by the US – to the extent that FBI agents reportedly tried to contact hunger-strikers in Athens during their captivity.

I spoke with Eleni Spathana, one of the hunger-striking activists' lawyers, to learn more about the situation.

VICE: Eleni, where do we stand now on the case?
Eleni Spathana: We just had a development we had been expecting for some time now. After the rejection of the extradition demand by Turkey, the US has asked for the extradition of two of the suspects. The court has upheld the demands put in by France and Germany [where the two suspects hail from], but now the US wants to interrogate them [in connection with the bombing of the US embassy in Ankara].

How is the US implicated in all this?
FBI agents are currently in Greece and on the case, probably here as “specialists”. The way they approached the process so far is against the Greek constitution. A Greek prosecutor was there when they asked to speak to one of the witnesses, who outright refused to do so. But they didn’t have any jurisdiction. In order to justify their presence in Greece, they used a deal signed between the country and the US back in 2000. This is the first time this has been used for a political refugee.

Annoncering

Bulut Yayla

And this is related both to the abduction of Bulut Yayla and the apprehension of the boat in Chios?
Yes, three of the suspects are held for that case. On Yayla, the documents we have in our possession show that they were looking for Yayla in the past as well.

What is the alleged connection between people who had already fled to Greece and the bombing in Ankara?
They are wanted because of their ties with the DHKP-C. The nature of the questions the FBI asked, though, was not purely about the bombing and other terrorist strikes. They asked them about their ideas and about the group’s ideas. They were very interested in that.

What was their general stance towards the case?
They asked for everything the Greek police had on the case. What is shocking, is that they claimed that if one of the suspects co-operated with them, they’d be able to overturn the decision by the Greek High court to extradite him to Germany. Essentially stating that they could just bypass the supreme court of a country, just like that.

Thanks, Eleni.

-

With the case around the nine suspects ongoing, the outcome remains uncertain. But the strange mood in the East Mediterranean is telling of a very nervous situation – we could be witnessing the beginning of a new chapter of the War on Terror.

Follow Yiannis on Twitter: @YiannisBab

Previously:

Turkey and Greece Are Working Together to Punish Dissidents

Turkey Is Waging an Invisible War Against Its Dissidents