ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish authorities on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for the leader of a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish group while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed a threat to oust Syrian Kurds from a town in northern Syria.
Prosecutors in Ankara demanded the arrest of 48 Kurdish militants and leaders, including Saleh Muslim, who heads the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. The warrants were issued in connection to a suicide bomb attack in February in Ankara, which killed 29 people and was claimed by a Kurdish militant group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
Turkey considers the PYD and its armed wing, known as the YPG, as the extension of the PKK in Syria. All three are designated as terror organizations.
In August, Ankara sent ground troops into northern Syria to support Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces clear a border area of Islamic State group militants and to curb the PYD and YPG’s territorial expansion.
On Tuesday, Erdogan reiterated that the Turkish-backed fighters were close to capturing the key town of al-Bab from the IS group. Once that is achieved, Erdogan said, the troops would head toward the town of Manbij, currently held by the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.
The Kurdish forces drove IS from Manbij earlier this year, but Turkey says it was promised that they would leave after the town’s capture and retreat east of the Euphrates river.
“Why will we go to Manbij? Not because we are wild about the place but because the PYD and YPG are there,” Erdogan said. “They say a number of them have left. But we want the place to be totally emptied of the PYD and YPG.”
The prosecutors issued the arrest warrants, arguing that the attack which targeted buses carrying military personnel in Ankara was ordered by PKK leaders, including two who are in exile in Europe and two who are believed to be in northern Iraq. Saleh Muslim’s alleged role in the attack was not clear.
The PKK leaders are already wanted in Turkey but it was the first known warrant for Muslim, who visited Turkey in 2014 and met with Turkish officials.