Turkey to extradite militants to Egypt as relations warm, sources say

Cairo shows cautious optimism over future relations with Ankara

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during the Grand Congress of his ruling AK Party in Ankara, Turkey, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
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Turkey could soon extradite at least 20 fugitives to Egypt as the two countries make progress in talks to normalise fraught relations.

Egyptian security sources told The National that Turkey had agreed in principle to extradite nearly two dozen people suspected of roles in terrorist attacks, including the 2015 assassination of the country’s chief prosecutor.

The sources said Cairo, in return, was willing to consider curtailing some activities by US-based exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016.

These may include his Cairo-based Turkish language TV station, publishing house and a private Arabic-learning centre for Turkish students, they said.

The officials said further negotiations were needed to finalise details of an agreement.

Egypt and Turkey first held talks in Cairo in May. A second round of dialogue aimed at normalising relations took place in Ankara on September 7 and 8.

After the Ankara talks, officials from both sides said they would meet again but did not give a date.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry declined to discuss details of the talks.

However, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry have made cautiously optimistic comments on the future of relations between the two nations since the end of the talks last week.

Mr Shoukry said Egypt was “eager to find a resolution” to restore ties with Ankara, but more work needed to be done.

Mr Madbouli said diplomatic ties with Turkey could be restored this year if outstanding issues were overcome.

“There has been a lot of movement that has taken place in the last few months,” Mr Madbouli said, but some outstanding issues remain.

He cited Libya, where the two countries have supported rival factions in that country’s now-easing civil war.

This issue posed the risk of a major escalation last year, which could have resulted in Egypt and Turkey sending troops to fight in Libya on opposing sides.

Both Mr Madbouli and Mr Shoukry made their comments in interviews last week on Bloomberg TV.

Egypt insists that Turkey must pull out its troops and allied foreign fighters from Libya to allow that energy-rich nation to press ahead with an internationally supported, UN-led political process.

Turkey has also requested Egypt's help in efforts to ensure that Russian military advisers belonging to a security firm close to the Kremlin also leave Libya, the security officials said.

Egypt and Nato member Turkey have not exchanged ambassadors since 2013, when relations soured over the removal of Mohammed Morsi of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood by the military, then led by head of the army and future president Abdel Fattah El Sisi.

Besides Libya, Egypt and Turkey are also at sharp odds over what Cairo sees as Ankara’s support to extremist groups and the use of its military and mercenaries across several Middle Eastern countries – including Iraq and Syria.

The negotiations between Egypt and Turkey, while still at an early stage and led only by deputy foreign ministers, are part of an energetic diplomatic drive by Ankara to improve frayed ties with Arab heavyweights, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The Turkish effort is motivated largely by Ankara’s wish not to lose the goodwill of some of its largest trade partners in the region and to secure a place in plans underway to turn the Eastern Mediterranean into a global energy hub after the discovery of massive natural gas reserves.

The energy plans are led by Egypt, and Turkey’s archrivals Greece and Cyprus. They also include Israel, Jordan, Italy and the Palestinians.

Also on Turkey’s wish list is striking a maritime deal with Egypt in the East Mediterranean that would allow it to legally explore for natural gas in the area.

The security officials said that the Egyptian citizens Cairo had requested to be extradited from Turkey have already been barred from travelling.

They include Yahya Moussa and Alaa Al Samahy, who have been tried and convicted in absentia for their part in the 2015 assassination of Attorney General Hesham Barakat.

The others are wanted in connection with terror attacks, including the assassination or attempted killing of senior police and army officers in the years that followed Mr Morsi’s 2013 ouster.

Most of these attacks were blamed by authorities on Hasm, an armed wing of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Hasm was designated a terrorist organisation by the US in 2018. Moussa and Al Samahy, believed to be involved in the planning and financing of a series of attacks, were added in January this year to the State Department list of wanted terrorists.

Updated: September 16, 2021, 6:07 AM