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Extradition of pro-Gulen businessman shows extent of Algerian-Turkish security cooperation

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Extradition of pro-Gulen businessman shows extent of Algerian-Turkish security cooperation

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In a surprise move, Algerian authorities handed over a prominent opposition figure linked to Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen to their Turkish counterparts. For years prior to this step, especially under former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria was reluctant to hand over wanted individuals.

The handover of the Turkish dissident ushered in a new page in Algerian-Turkish cooperation in the security and intelligence fields. Turkey started this new phase by extraditing Algerian Lieutenant Guermit Bounouira, who was the personal secretary of the former army chief of staff, the late General Ahmed Gaid Saleh. The fomer aide is accused of fleeing to Turkey with files containing “dangerous” information.

The issue of Gulen movement members in Algeria has been a source of tension between the two countries, with Algeria refusing in recent years to hand over suspected members of the movement to Ankara despite the insistence of former Turkish President Abdullah Gul for them to be extradited during repeated visits to Algeria.

A source familiar with the Turkish community in Algeria told The Arab Weekly that “elements affiliated with the Gulen movement were surprised by the (Algerian) decision to deport the Turkish dissident who was running a company in Algeria, and they did not rule out that the process would affect other elements during the coming weeks, especially in light of the persistence of the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in tracking down sympathisers of this movement, including immigrants and refugees, in various capitals.”

Turkish authorities did not disclose the identity of the deported man, but there are indications he is a prominent figure in what was known as the Gulen movement’s “Algeria Cell.”

The source added that “a state of panic prevails among members of the Turkish community in Algeria, and that they are traumatised by the sudden shift in the Algerian position, even if the threat of deportation became real since the extradition by the Turkish authorities of Algerian officer Guermit Bounouira, which raised among the Turkish community in Algeria the likelihood of the Algerian authorities reciprocating the gesture.”

The Arab Weekly source quoted a Gulen sympathiser in Algiers as saying that “their families and their properties in Turkey were subjected to severe pressures and retaliation.”

The Turkish community in Algeria has invested in Algeria and run successful businesses for years now, making the country a favourite destination for Turkish expats, especially those active in trade and other businesses. With the news of the Turkish dissident’s deportation, many Turkish expats suspected of being on Turkey’s wanted list for belonging to the Gulen movement are feeling anxious and confused.

Although cooperation between Turkey and Algeria has been limited to economic and investment activity, with Turkey becoming one of Algeria’s largest trade partners, the issue of handing over the Turkish dissident has revealed that security and intelligence cooperation between the two countries has also deepened.

However, the decision to deport the Turkish dissident coincided with Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune’s absence from the country. Tebboune has been away for over a month now receiving treatment for a COVID-19 infection, according to statements by the Algerian presidency. Tebboune’s absence raises questions about the legitimacy of the deportation decision and the extent of authorities’ political and moral responsibility given that the president should have the final say on such matters.

Lawyer and human rights activist Tarek Merah told The Arab Weekly by phone that “the Turkish deportee is charged with belonging to an armed terrorist organisation, which is a matter for the court to decide and not the higher political authorities, in accordance with the provisions of any judicial and prisoner exchange cooperation agreement signed by two parties.”

The Turkish judiciary had issued an international arrest warrant against the deported dissident. It is unclear if similar warrants against other members of the Gulen movement residing in Algeria have also been issued.

By Saber Blidi

Source: The Arab Weekly

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