In a daring move, Sweden has agreed to extradite a Turkish national sought by the Turkish government in exchange for Ankara’s approval to join the US-led military alliance NATO. This comes on the heels of Finland becoming the 31st member of NATO amid concerns over Russia’s incursions in Ukraine and the potential for the war to spread across Europe.
The Turkish national in question, Omer Altun, is an alleged associate of a Kurdish group linked to a failed coup attempt in 2016. Turkey has long accused Sweden of being a “safe haven” for Kurdish militants and has demanded the extradition of dozens of mainly Kurdish suspects accused of “terrorism” or involvement in the 2016 coup. Sweden, however, has rejected these requests.
Altun was sentenced to 15 years by Turkey’s judiciary last year, but Sweden considers his convictions to be fraudulent. The extradition was agreed upon on the condition that Altun would be granted a fair retrial, which Sweden’s justice ministry claims will be ensured.
But the decision to extradite Altun is not without controversy. Turkey has been quick to accuse Sweden of being a safe haven for Kurdish militants, while Sweden has accused Turkey of using the PKK, which Ankara deems a terror organization, as a scapegoat for the November 2022 Istanbul bombing.
Furthermore, the decision to extradite Altun was not a sure thing, as Sweden rejected Turkey’s request to extradite more suspects, which could have jeopardized Sweden’s attempt to join NATO. Additionally, a group of Swedish nationals recently hung an effigy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a public space, while a far-right politician burned a Quran outside of Ankara’s embassy in Stockholm, further damaging the relationship between the two countries.
The decision by Swedish police to allow the Quran burning protest to take place drew a furious response from Ankara, which canceled a planned visit by Sweden’s defense minister and summoned the Swedish ambassador for a dressing down. In response, the US State Department has called the Quran burning a “deeply disrespectful act,” which may have been intended to sabotage unity within NATO.
As Sweden moves forward with its bid to join NATO, the decision to extradite Altun will likely remain a contentious issue between Sweden and Turkey. Whether or not it will have a lasting impact on Sweden’s NATO membership remains to be seen.
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