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

According to a lawyer representing an alleged Turkish terrorist, the FBI has been snooping around Greece and interrogating suspected members of DHKP-C, a far-left militia. Is the US about to increase its involvement in the region?

by Yiannis Baboulias
Dec 20 2013, 10:00am

A poster advocating against the extradition of accused Turkish terrorists back to their home country, where their supporters believe they'll face imprisonment and torture because of their political beliefs.

Collaborative efforts by the Greek and Turkish governments to fight terrorism have been in the headlines 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's banned in Turkey and has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings. The Greek police denied all knowledge of the extradition, but evidence from various reports suggested that this was bullshit. 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.

Until recently, other Turkish leftists in Greece were prepared for a similar fate: extradition followed by inevitable imprisonment. Among them were four Turks who were arrested in August after the Greek authorities seized a boat allegedly carrying guns and explosives from the Greek island of Chios to the DHKP-C in Turkey. They went on a hunger strike that lasted more than 50 days to protest their possible deportation. One, Mehmet Yayla, has particularly pressing concerns about going back to Turkey—he said he was tortured by the authorities there and survived two assassination attempts before fleeing the country.

In November, however, the Greek courts, under severe pressure from the international community, decided not to proceed with the extradition, presumably 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 be tortured).

These Turks aren't out of the woods yet—the DHKP-C is listed as a terrorist organization by both the US and the EU and, after the group claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing of the American embassy in Ankara in February, America's interest in this part of the world intensified. 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 have reportedly tried to contact the hunger strikers in Athens during their captivity.

To learn more, I spoke with Eleni Spathana, one of the Turks' lawyers, who believes the US is trying to extradite the alleged terrorists itself.

VICE: Eleni, where do you 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].

What exactly is the US trying to do?
FBI agents are currently in Greece and on the case. 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 [talk]. But they didn’t have any jurisdiction. In order to justify their presence in Greece, they used a treaty between the country and the US back in 2000. This is the first time this has been used for a political refugee.

And this is related both to the abduction of Bulut Yayla and the seizing of the boat in Chios?
Yes, three of the suspects are held for that case. [In Yayla's case], the documents we have in our possession show that [the police] were looking for Yayla in the past as well.

What is the alleged connection between the people who had already fled to Greece and the bombing in Ankara?
They are wanted because of their ties with the DHKP-C. The questions the FBI asked, though, were 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 else has the FBI been doing?
They asked for everything the Greek police had on the case. What is shocking is that they claimed that if one of the suspects cooperated 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.

Follow Yiannis on Twitter: @YiannisBab