A Turkish terror suspect who was arrested in Grand Cayman after arriving on a cruise ship is facing extradition in connection with the killing of two people and the burning of two primary schools in 1988.
However, the brother of Celal Kildag, 58, told the Cayman Compass it is “impossible” that he was involved in the alleged crimes because he was not in Turkey at the time.
Far from being an international fugitive, Celal Kildag has lived openly in Germany with his wife and two grown children, according to Hüseyin Kildag, who spoke with the Compass by phone from Germany over the weekend.
Hüseyin Kildag said his brother emigrated to Germany in 1980, where he was granted political asylum, and has never returned to Turkey.
Concerning the allegations, he said, “It’s impossible; he was never there.”
Celal Kildag arrived in Grand Cayman with his wife on Thursday on the MSC Opera. According to the ship’s schedule, it departed Genoa, Italy, bound for Cozumel, Mexico, on Nov. 13 and had stopped in 11 countries before arriving in George Town. It is not clear where Celal Kildag boarded the ship.
He was detained after police in Cayman were alerted to an Interpol Red Notice – essentially an international arrest warrant.
Still wearing casual vacation clothes, white shorts patterned with palm trees, and a V-neck sweater, he appeared in court Friday to hear details of the extradition request.
He is accused of being part of a Kurdish separatist movement that has waged a decades-long guerilla war with the Turkish state.
Magistrate Grace Donalds told him, “You are accused of the commission of offenses in the extradition territory of Turkey, namely carrying out terrorist acts on behalf of an armed terrorist organization the PKK/KCK and attempting to separate some parts of land under the state. These acts are said to have been carried out by you together with others on April 23, 1988, leading to the shooting and murder of two victims and the burning of two primary schools.”
Speaking through an interpreter, Mr. Kildag denied knowledge of the offenses, saying he has lived in Germany for the past 34 years and has a German passport. He was remanded in custody, and a second hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.
Crown prosecutor Cheryll Richards said there is a 45-day window to review a formal extradition application from Turkey and have it certified by the governor.
Assuming Mr. Kildag does not voluntarily agree to be extradited to Turkey, a hearing will take place in Cayman to determine whether he should be sent there to face the charges.
His wife remained onboard the ship after her husband’s arrest and flew back to Germany on Saturday, he said.
Hüseyin Kildag insisted his brother never returned to Turkey after emigrating in 1980 because, as a Kurd, he was politically persecuted. “Even when our father died, he could not go back,” he said.
Who are the PKK?
The PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, and the KCK, the Kurdistan Communities Union, have been involved in the struggle against the Turkish state for equal rights and self-determination for the Kurdish population in Turkey, estimated at around 10 million.
According to a Human Rights Watch background report on the situation, Kurds have faced violent and at times indiscriminate oppression by the Turkish state since a military coup in 1980.
The PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the United States, started its armed campaign in 1984 and has been implicated in attacks on schools, including an incident in Tunceli, the Eastern Anatolia region listed in the extradition request against Mr. Kildag.
“The PKK began targeting primary schools in November 1988, when they killed two teachers and set fire to three school buildings in villages in Mardin, Elazig and Tunceli. In the village of Yesilbelen in Elazig, the PKK group came in broad daylight, took the students and teacher out of the school building, sprinkled it with kerosene and set it on fire. The PKK then warned the villagers not to stay in the village,” according to a 1990 report from Human Rights Watch.
Another Human Rights Watch analysis highlights the Kurds as the principal victims of the “excesses of the Turkish state” since 1980.
It states, “The denial of cultural and political rights has generated a long-standing sense of grievance among some sectors of the Kurdish minority, and this has made them a fertile source of recruits for illegal radical armed organizations – in particular the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which began attacks on gendarmerie posts and other state installations in 1984. These attacks in turn provoked fierce repression–mass arrests followed by interrogation under torture, and trials in martial law courts and State Security Courts which fell far short of international standards of justice.”
An estimated 40,000 people have died since the conflict began, according to the BBC.
Violence flared again recently after the collapse of a cease-fire in July 2015.
“Now the PKK is being targeted in a bigger Turkish security crackdown, following the botched July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by mutinous Turkish officers,” the BBC reported.