BEIRUT: Syria's Kurds said Sunday that one of their most prominent leaders, who is wanted by Ankara on terrorism-related charges, had been arrested in Prague on a Turkish warrant.
Saleh Muslim, the former co-chair of the main Syrian Kurdish political movement, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), was arrested late on Saturday in the Czech capital, according to a statement by a coalition of parties that includes the PYD.
If Muslim is extradited to Turkey to face trial, it would be one of the most significant captures of a wanted Kurdish leader by Turkey in years.
Czech police confirmed in a statement that a 67-year-old foreigner was being held after being detained on Saturday based on a Turkish Interpol notice.
"Ankara Interpol staff were informed of the arrest. The police will take the standard steps in line with the law," it said.
Turkish state news agency Anadolu reported that Saleh was detained based on an Interpol red notice issued by Turkish authorities. It said he was due to appear in a Czech court and that the Turkish authorities would press for his extradition.
Muslim was among several prominent Kurdish officials indicted by Turkey over a February 2016 bombing in Ankara that killed 29 people.
He faces 30 life sentences if convicted. Ankara said the PYD and its military wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), were responsible for the bombing, which targeted military vehicles.
Muslim features on a Turkish interior ministry wanted list, with a 4 million lira (860,000 euro) bounty for his arrest. He has denied any involvement in the attack.
Ankara considers the PYD and YPG as extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state and is classed as a terror group by Ankara and its Western allies.
- Turkish offensive -
His capture would be one of the biggest of a Kurdish official by Turkey since the detention of PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan in 1999.
Muslim was replaced as co-chair of the PYD last year, but remains a member of the diplomatic committee of the TEV-DEM political coalition that issued the statement on his arrest.
He was in Prague for a meeting supported by the United States and had been due to leave the city on Sunday, a Kurdish official told AFP.
He has moved freely around Europe in recent years and it was unclear why Czech authorities would have decided to move now on the Turkish arrest warrant.
Ankara last month launched a military operation against the YPG militia in the enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.
Backed by Turkish air strikes and ground support, pro-Ankara Syrian rebels have been advancing against YPG forces towards the main town of Afrin.
The operation has raised tensions with Washington, which works closely with the YPG in the fight against jihadists in Syria.
Syria's Kurds have taken advantage of the country's devastating civil war to seize control of large parts of their traditional heartland in the north, declaring autonomous rule.
This has raised deep concerns in Turkey, which fears that the establishment of a successful Kurdish political entity on its southern border could serve as an example and rear base for the PKK.