WASHINGTON - A Turkish citizen, wanted by the U.S. for his involvement in a terror attack that killed two U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, has been set free by Turkish authorities following his deportation from Germany where the suspect completed an 11-year prison sentence last year.
Adem Yilmaz's Germany-based lawyer told VOA that his client has been released following two days of detention at Turkey's Istanbul airport by Turkish law enforcement authorities.
"There is no court case against Adem Yilmaz in Turkey since he never lived in Turkey before. Turkish authorities detained him for two days and then set him free," Michael Murat Sertsoz told VOA.
"If they had not released him, that would have been a double punishment. It is not allowed for the same crime," Sertsoz added.
Sertsoz was referring to what is known as "double jeopardy" in legal terminology where a suspect tried and punished for a crime in one country cannot be tried again for the same crime in a different country.
Adem Yilmaz is wanted by the U.S. for his involvement in a suicide attack that killed two U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan in 2008. U.S. requested German authorities to hand the suspect over to the U.S. to be tried on terrorism charges, a request rejected by a German court.
Arrest and trial
Adem Yilmaz had been part of a four-man squad called the "Sauerland terror cell" named after a German town. The cell was affiliated with the Islamic Jihad Union, a U.S. and UN designated terror group with ties to al-Qaida terror organization.
In 2007, three members of the Sauerland terror cell, including Adem Yilmaz were arrested and charged with forming a terror cell and planning car-bomb attacks on a U.S. airbase and public places with the aim of killing as many Americans as possible.
German authorities found 735 kilograms of 35 percent hydrogen peroxide, which according to a U.S Treasury statement, would be enough to produce approximately 55 kilograms of explosives.
"Had the attacks occurred, estimates show the casualty toll could have far exceeded the 2004 train bombings in Madrid or the 2005 transport bombings in London," the U.S. Treasury Department said during Yilmaz trial in 2008.
Yilmaz was designated as a terrorist by the U.S., and was added to the sanctions list of the UN Security Council. The U.S. also indicted him in 2015 for charges of providing material support to a terror organization and aiding and abetting military-style training.
In 2010, a court in Dusseldorf sentenced Yilmaz to 11 years in prison for trying to mount what the German judge reportedly called a "second September 11."
U.S. Extradition request
In 2016, the U.S. requested that Germany extradite Yilmaz to the U.S., but the German court sought more information from U.S authorities. Germany wanted assurances that the extradition would not lead to double jeopardy since German law forbids extraditing a person for a crime for which the sentence has already been served.
"The United States, in this case, wanted to make Adem Yilmaz responsible for the recruitment of Cuneyt Ciftci, the first German suicide bomber [in Afghanistan]. Yilmaz, in fact, recruited Ciftci in 2000 and sent him to the Islamic Jihad Union. Ciftci then perpetrated a suicide attack [in 2008] that killed two American servicemen and that's why the Americans wanted to have Yilmaz extradited to the U.S.," Guido Steinberg, a Middle East expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told VOA.
"It was frankly impossible to extradite him to the U.S. since the U.S. insisted on indicting Yilmaz for this same crime," Steinberg added.
Deportation to Turkey
Last month, a Frankfurt court decided to reject the American request to extradite Yilmaz to the U.S, citing double jeopardy as a justification for its position on the issue.
"To extradite him to face trial in the U.S. on terrorism charges would constitute double jeopardy under German law," Gundula Fehns-Boeer, a spokesperson for the Frankfurt state court told the Associated Press.
Instead, Yilmaz who was still deemed "dangerous" by German authorities, was deported to his native Turkey earlier this month.
The United States expressed disappointment over Germany's decision to deport him to Turkey instead of extraditing him to the U.S. to face charges against him in New York.
"The German government deliberately helped Yilmaz escape justice by placing him on a plane to Turkey,'' former acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said in a statement after Yilmaz's deportation.
U.S. officials have been reportedly trying to work with Turkish authorities to deal with Yilmaz's case.
One U.S. official told Bloomberg earlier this month that the U.S. has filed a "Red Notice" via Interpol to secure Yilmaz's detention in Turkey.
Robert Palladino, U.S. State Department's Deputy Spokesperson told reporters in a recent press briefing that U.S. has been in talks with Turkish authorities over the matter.
"Yilmaz is a convicted terrorist; he's charged with serious crimes by the United States. Two American service members were killed and 11 wounded as a result of a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan in 2008. And this bombing was facilitated by actions that Yilmaz took in support of terrorism," Palladino said.
"So the United States will never relent in its efforts to bring Yilmaz to justice," he added.
The Sauerland terror plot in 2007 was reportedly thwarted by German police acting on information provided by the U.S National Security Agency.
Guido Steinberg of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said that members of the Trump administration are not happy with Germany for Yilmaz's deportation because the U.S provided the intelligence to catch him in the first place.
"The first information about the plots often come from the United States. That has happened in the case of the Sauerland cell," Steinberg told VOA.