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Global Plot That Lured Kurds' Hero Into Trap World News Guardian.co(1)

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Unlawful imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan
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  Sign in RegisterText larger · smaller  About UsToday's paperZeitgeist Global plot that lured Kurds' hero intotrap  Abdullah Ocalan's arrest ignited furious protest across Europe.Helena Smith in Athens and Chris Morris in Ankara report on theinternational operation that led him into the clutches of the Turkishgovernment guardian.co.uk, Sunday 21 February 1999 02.41 GMT  larger | smaller The Lear jet carrying Abdullah Ocalan touched down on Greek soil on 29 January. Thatevening, at her seaside home near Athens, 77-year-old Voula Damianakou - one of thecountry's most popular authors - was suprised to hear a knock at the door.Outside stood an agitated Antonis Naxakis, a retired rear admiral and one of Ocalan'sclosest friends. He had hired the plane that had brought the Kurdish leader from StPetersburg to Athens, arranging - with the help of ultra-nationalist Socialist MPs - forhim to be whisked through the VIP channel.Now Naxakis asked Damianakou, celebrated in Greece as a resistance fighter during theGerman occupation, to give Ocalan a bed for the night.'At first, we thought it was a joke,' she said. 'But when people knock at my door I don'tforget our country's tradition of hospitality. Before me was a man who was beingpersecuted.'I've never forgotten my own days during the German occupation, when people wouldopen the door to me, so I felt I owed it to Ocalan and I took him in, gave him dinner anda bed for the night.'Ocalan, accompanied by his secretary and two bodyguards, told her he was worried thatthe Greek government would make concessions to the Turks through the Americans.Last week, as Kurds rioted across Europe, his fears had proved justified.But on that night, 29 January, he found moments of solace. 'We spoke about everything,especially ancient Greek civilisation and Shakespeare, which interested him a lot,' saidDamianakou.He asked if she thought the Greek government would protect him; she reassured him,reminding him that Greece had always been pro-Kurdish.'He was very tormented, and so tired that he slept, poor soul, until midday on Saturday.'The next night Ocalan was taken to Naxakis's house, where it had been arranged heshould meet Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos to discuss whether Greece would beprepared to grant him political asylum.But instead of Pangalos it was Major Haralambos Stavrakakis, head of the Greek secretservice EYP, who arrived. 06/04/2010Global plot that lured Kurds' hero into…guardian.co.uk/world/1999/feb/…/print1/5  He told Ocalan he could not stay in Greece, since the country did not want to risk a war with Turkey by harbouring the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a 15-year struggle for autonomy in south-eastern Turkey.But Stavrakakis did have a suggestion: he offered Ocalan shelter in an embassy,although it is not clear if he specified Nairobi. Ocalan said he would think about it.It was the beginning of the end for the world's most wanted man. On 1 February, he hadtried to reach Holland via Minsk. That attempt failed and his plane was forced to land inCorfu due to lack of fuel. Ocalan spent the night of 2 February in a Corfu safe-houseprovided by Greek intelligence.He seems to have agreed to Greece's offers of refuge on Pangalos's assurance that it would be a temporary measure until Athens could negotiate political asylum withHolland or an African state. But Naxakis said Ocalan had no idea that he was being takento Kenya - a country he would have turned down because of its heavy CIA presencefollowing the bomb attack on the US Embassy last summer. When Ocalan arrived in Nairobi on 2 February he was accompanied by four Kurdishassociates and a Greek agent. One of the Kurds, Semsi Kilic, said the PKK leader did notknow he was going to Kenya until he arrived there.'I believe he thought he was going to South Africa,' she told the pro-Kurdish Med-TV last week.Sources say the Greek government decided to send Ocalan to Kenya following intensepressure from Washington. 'The pressure was not only tough, it was vulgar,' saidSerafeim Findanides, editor of the daily Eleftheroptypia.'From what I've heard, Pangalos was told something like ''your mother will be fucked if  you don't go along with this''.'Since the early Eighties the US State Department has frequently portrayed Athens ashome to some of the most dangerous home-grown terrorist groups in Europe. The CIA seized upon Ocalan's case as a golden opportunity for Greece to prove conclusively thatit was no longer soft on terrorism.European Union diplomats insist that Washington also saw the capture of Ocalan as theperfect repayment for Turkey's willingness to provide Nato with military airbases thathave been used to stage bombing raids against Iraq.'The whole thing was plotted by America, Turkey, Kenya and Greece. We were themiddle men,' said Colonel Savvas Kalenterides, who was dispatched to Nairobi to takecharge of the operation. 'As a Greek, I feel deeply ashamed about our role, which is why I have decided to talk.'Last week - after the rebel leader had been at the compound for 12 days, andnegotiations for his surrender had still not been completed - US officials reportedly  began to lose their temper.Last Monday Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was in the middle of an importantand controversial meeting with Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, when hisprivate secretary interrupted with a handwritten note. A few minutes later, the PrimeMinister excused himself. He had more pressing business to attend to: Operation Safari- the secret mission to capture Ocalan - was about to enter its decisive final phase.It had begun 11 days earlier, on 4 February, when Turkey was tipped off by the US thatOcalan was in the Greek Embassy in Nairobi. Only 10 people in Ankara knew; any leak to Turkey's rumour-obsessed media could have scuppered the operation.In a secret summit at the presidential palace that night, Ecevit and President SuleymanDemirel met the Chief of the General Staff and the head of Turkey's intelligenceorganisation, MIT.They decided to dispatch a team of Turkey's elite soldiers, the Maroon Berets, to Africa. 06/04/2010Global plot that lured Kurds' hero into…guardian.co.uk/world/1999/feb/…/print2/5   An executive jet was procured from one of Turkey's leading business magnates, who wastold it was a matter of national security.The Falcon 900B jet was chosen because it could fly back from Kenya to Turkey withouthaving to refuel. It was painted blue and its Turkish markings replaced with a Malaysianflag. The Turkish team - including a doctor and a flight crew of three - flew first to theUgandan capital, Kampala, where they waited for several days until given the all-clear toproceed to Nairobi.There, in the Greek Embassy, Ocalan was - according to his supporters - still confidentthat Greece would find him asylum somewhere 'appropriate'. But as the days draggedon, he became increasingly impatient with his captivity in the Greek diplomaticcompound.Even Kurdish sources, speaking later, criticised him for using his mobile phone and walking around the grounds. The streets outside must have been crawling with foreignagents, waiting to pounce on their prey. As American pressure on the Greek government intensified, Ocalan's demands took on anote of desperation. Last weekend a statement was released on his behalf appealingagain for asylum in Italy, Greece or Russia. He was, he said, 'in great danger'.By last Monday Ocalan's Kurdish companions, who are still stuck in the Greek Embassy, were extremely worried - and with good reason. That day the Kenyan authoritiespresented the Greek Ambassador, George Costoulas, with photographic evidenceproving that Ocalan was on his property.The ambassador told his Kurdish guests he had struck a deal with the Kenyans to fly thePKK leader and his friends to a European country of his choice. It is not clear whetherthe Greeks believed the offer was genuine, or had by now reluctantly caved in under American pressure.Meanwhile, the Turkish team on standby in Uganda finally left for Nairobi at about 4pmon Monday.Ocalan's preferred destination was the Netherlands. He wanted to take his case to aEuropean court and propel his conflict with Turkey to the world stage. By early Monday evening the Kenyans had made it clear that if he did not leave, 'something might happen'that night.Mystery still surrounds the exact circumstances of the journey from the embassy to theairport. According to Kilic, the Kurdish activist who was present, five vehicles arrived which belonged to the Kenyan police and Interior Ministry. An argument over which carOcalan should use to travel to the airport began and lasted for around half an hour. Hisassociates wanted him to ride in the Greek ambassador's vehicle because it would - likethe embassy compound - enjoy diplomatic immunity. But the Kenyans insisted that hetravel in their Jeep. Kilic said Ocalan was suspicious, but believed he had no choice. A last-minute phone call from Greek Foreign Minister Pangalos seemed to offerreassurance. But once the convoy of cars departed, the game was up.Ocalan was put in the Jeep without any of his associates. His vehicle sped away from therest and arrived at the airport first. It appears that along the way he was drugged. TheJeep was surrounded by police as soon as it arrived at the airport.The identities of all the people in the convoy may never be known. Were any Turkspresent? Any Americans? Many suspect US involvement, though Washington hasinsisted that it played no direct role. All Turkey's special forces had to do, it seems, wassit in their plane, waiting for Ocalan to walk into their trap.The plan worked like a dream. Once the plane was safely airborne, the Turkishcelebrations began: a military intelligence video released to an awestruck public showedagents wearing black balaclavas exchanging congratulations and high-fives as Ocalan sat 06/04/2010Global plot that lured Kurds' hero into…guardian.co.uk/world/1999/feb/…/print3/5  quietly blindfolded and handcuffed. At one stage the blindfold was removed and Ocalan was seen in close-up, drenched insweat, bewildered and nervous. 'Welcome home,' an agent says. 'Thank you,' saysOcalan, 'I love Turkey and I love the Turkish people.'The mission was so secret that when the plane tried to land at Istanbul airport it wasinitially refused permission because it had no flight plan. It circled above the city until anurgent call from Ankara to the control tower gave the required clearance.Ocalan arrived in Turkey at 3am on Tuesday, 16 February. He is now incarcerated on anisolated prison island in the Sea of Marmara, south of Istanbul. All the other prisonershave been evacuated and Turkey has declared an exclusion zone for 10 miles around theisland.Sitting in his office in Ankara, Prime Minister Ecevit has been basking in the glow of aTurkish triumph. Now Operation Safari is over, he acknowledges that Turkey receivedsome help, but refuses to identify any friends in high places. 'In the interest of notdisturbing those parties who took part in this operation,' he said, 'I will use a localexpression ''Let us eat the grape and not ask where it came from''.'In Greece, the political fallout has been intense and destructive. Greeks consider theircountry's bungling and duplicitous behaviour a national humiliation. Ocalan is seen as afolk hero by Greeks who have not forgotten their ancestors' own desperate fight againstthe Ottoman Turks. They have turned their anger on the government of Prime MinisterCostas Simitis.He has resisted calls for his own resignation, but on Thursday Pangalos and two otherMinisters quit the government. Stavrakakis resigned the next day. A prosecutor hasopened an investigation into Naxakis and his colleagues. On Wednesday, police orderedstrict security measures to be insituted at all public buildings and foreign embassies untilfurther notice.Simitis sought to deflect the outrage to other EU nations. 'Greece fully carried out itsmoral duty it should not have been presented with such a dilemma. But no Europeancountry or organisation was willing to take any initiative,' he said.Ocalan had been on the run for almost six months since being forced under threat of military action by Turkey to leave Syria, his base for almost 18 years. On 9 October he was smuggled via Greece to Russia, where he was soon spotted by Israeli intelligenceagents, who passed the information to the Turks. Under pressure from Ankara and Washington, the Russians told Ocalan he had to move on and he was offered a variety of destinations. But Ocalan made his own choice: a bold, high-profile gamble to go to Italy and apply for political asylum in the heart of Europe.It didn't work. His presence in Italy sparked anti-Italian street protests across Turkey,as well as a furious diplomatic row between Rome and Ankara which still festers bitterly.Italy refused to extradite Ocalan to Turkey because the death penalty is legal there.Rome would have liked to send him to Germany, where there is also a warrant for hisarrest, but the Germans did not want to touch this hottest of hot potatoes.Finally - after much negotiation and arm-twisting - Italy persuaded Ocalan to leave on16 January and he spent much of the next two weeks trying to gain permission to stay inRussia, where he still has many supporters among Communists and nationalists in theRussian parliament.But the government in Moscow would not be moved, and Ocalan was kept waiting for a week at Nizhny Novgorod airport.Under Turkish law, the Kurdish leader will be tried for treason. If found guilty, he could be executed or given 22,000 life sentences.'The Kurdish people are desperate. They have lost their leader,' said Yasser Kaya, thepresident of the Kurdish parliament-in-exile. 'They are united in anger. I really don't 06/04/2010Global plot that lured Kurds' hero into…guardian.co.uk/world/1999/feb/…/print4/5
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