US erupts in fury as Germany deports terrorist to Turkey

Acting Attorney-General Matt Whitaker accused Germany of allowing Adem Yilmaz to "escape justice by placing him on a plane to Turkey".
Acting Attorney-General Matt Whitaker accused Germany of allowing Adem Yilmaz to "escape justice by placing him on a plane to Turkey".PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Trump administration escalated its dispute with Germany over the transfer of a terror suspect sought by the United States, with American officials berating their German counterparts in a private meeting and Acting Attorney-General Matt Whitaker issuing an unusual rebuke of an ally for sending the man to Turkey.

Senior US and German officials had a heated argument over the fate of Adem Yilmaz, a Turkish man convicted of belonging to a terrorist cell, after he was deported to Turkey despite a US extradition request.

The dispute is the latest sign of mounting strain between the two allies under Mr Donald Trump's presidency.

The back and forth, which occurred on Wednesday (Feb 6) at a meeting between Deputy US Secretary of State John Sullivan and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Washington, was described by three people familiar with the event who didn't want to be identified discussing private conversations.

At the centre of the debate was Yilmaz, who was convicted in 2010 of plotting to bomb American targets in Germany and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

US officials had filed an extradition request for Yilmaz over the killing of two American service members, but a German court allowed him to be deported to Turkey this month instead.

Hours after the showdown between the diplomats, Mr Whitaker, the top US law enforcement official, accused Germany of allowing Yilmaz to "escape justice by placing him on a plane to Turkey", despite the American extradition request.

"We are gravely disappointed by Germany's decision to deport a dangerous terrorist - Adem Yilmaz - to Turkey, rather than to extradite him to the United States to face justice for his complicity in the murder of two American servicemen," Mr Whitaker said in his statement, a rare public rebuke of a longtime partner in national security.

IRANIAN PRISONERS

The controversy is the latest conflict between the Trump administration and Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

Dr Merkel has emerged as a public defender of multilateral institutions and alliances which Mr Trump has at times disparaged. The American president has also criticised Germany for not contributing more to Nato and for seeking to boost gas imports from Russia, among other things.

A senior State Department official, who was among those who attended the meeting, said he was "not satisfied" with the German minister's response, and added that the episode will hurt law-enforcement cooperation between the two countries.

"The German government has refused to take any responsibility for failing to extradite him to the United States, has flouted their treaty obligations and has undermined the rule of law," Mr Whitaker said in the statement.

A particular concern for the US from this latest episode is the fate of two Iranians held in Germany, at least one for allegations of involvement in a Paris bomb plot. The US is worried that it still doesn't have any assurances from Germany that the Iranians won't be sent back to their country in defiance of the American request.

A German Embassy spokesman declined to comment, as did a State Department spokesman.

The three people said the US was particularly frustrated because the German court that allowed Yilmaz to be deported hadn't been aware of a letter sent by the Department of Justice in November laying out the US case against Yilmaz and explaining why the US wanted him extradited.

One US official said German officials had also asked for more than the extradition treaty required, another source of irritation between the two countries.

The official also said the US was "blindsided" because German officials gave them no warning that the deportation decision had been made and he was going to be sent back to Turkey.

In the end, the official said, the US filed a "Red Notice" via Interpol to secure Yilmaz's detention in Turkey, where he is now being held.