After Kurds Acquitted, Turkey Says Greece Protecting Terrorists

FILE - Nine suspected militants from Turkey are escorted by anti-terror police as they arrive at a court to face terrorism charges in Athens, Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Sotiris Dimitropoulos, FILE)

With Greece already providing sanctuary for eight Turkish soldiers seeking asylum after fleeing a failed July, 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry decried the acquittal by a Greek court of nine Turkish ethnic Kurds on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization.

“The acquittal reveals why these terrorist elements are nested in Greece,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy was quoted as saying in a written statement cited by Turkish news agency Anadolu.

This decision by the Greek court “is clearly interrupting” the efforts to combat terrorism in Europe, he said, adding that Turkey is concerned that Greece has become a safe haven for terrorist groups.

The accused had been jailed before a 2017 visit by Erdogan but were cleared of terrorism and criminal arms charges in Greece.

Defense lawyer Aleca Zorbala said that the Athens court acquitted three of the defendants of all charges. The others received sentences of two years and seven months in prison for misdemeanor weapons possession and forged documents. All nine were in jail since November 2017.

The prosecutor at the trial had also called for the defendants to be acquitted of the terrorism charges. “There was no evidence,” Zorbala said. The arrests followed a major anti-terrorism police operation days before Erdogan’s visit.

They were charged with belonging to the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, or DHKP-C, deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union. Zorbala said her clients’ arrests were linked with the Turkish leader’s visit.

“The timing was not at all a coincidence,” she said. “(Greek authorities) wanted to show Erdogan that people he considers to be terrorists face arrest here and that he would be safe in Greece.” The defendants are of Kurdish, Turkish or Arab origin. Six are recognized political refugees.

Originally founded in the late 1970s as Dev Sol, the Marxist-Leninist DHKP-C is believed to be responsible for a string of assassinations and bombings in Turkey, including a 2013 suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

A Greek court had ruled the Turkish soldiers who denied taking part in the coup attempt against Erdogan should not be extradited because they wouldn’t get a fair trial and their lives would be in danger, leading Erdogan to say Greece was harboring terrorists.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)