The White House was caught off guard when Germany decided to transfer a convicted terrorist in its custody to Turkey who had long been pursued by the US, for which German officials say they had "no choice" but to reject a competing extradition request by the US. The surprise transfer resulted in a blow-up of sorts when American diplomats reportedly berated their German counterparts in a private meeting on Wednesday. Convicted terrorist Adem Yilmaz, an Islamist of Turkish nationality, was extradited under German law this month to Turkey after he was convicted in 2010 for plotting bomb attacks on American targets in Germany.
Yilmaz's transfer caught US officials "completely by surprise" especially as he had been sought by US authorities for over a decade in connection with charges that he conducted attacks on American troops along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan starting in around 2005.
It's but the latest sign in growing strain between Germany and the Trump administration after last week it was revealed that Germany snubbed Lockheed Martin's F-35 joint strike fighter to replace the NATO ally's aging Tornado warplanes, knocking the American stealth fighter of out of a tender worth billions of euros and raising issues of NATO's future strategic nuclear readiness.
Fueling Washington's outrage is that US officials previously filed a formal extradition request for Yilmaz related to the killing of two American service members, but a German court moved hastily moved forward with transferring him to Turkey after he served an 11-year prison sentence.
Germany is claiming it did everything strictly in accord with German law and that there must be non-interference in its court decisions. But this didn't stop Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker from taking the rare step of summoning Germany's ambassador and foreign minister to a meeting at the State Department to rebuke the decision.
Whitaker reportedly expressed the US was "gravely disappointed by Germany's decision" not to extradite Yilmaz after his "complicity in the murder of two American servicemen." In a rare, biting accusation he charged that German officials had "ignored our pending request to seek judicial reconsideration or review of a German court's recent decision to change the terms of our extradition treaty with Germany."
"We did exchange views," one German official told CNN, referring to the meeting which included Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Emily Haber, the German ambassador to the US. "We explained that the Federal Government cannot influence a court decision. In the end, a security decision had to be made. Most likely, the court would have freed the person yesterday due to the fact that the US has not provided the documents the court had asked for about nine months ago."
Amb. Grenell: We are gravely disappointed by Germany's decision to deport a dangerous terrorist to Turkey, despite a pending request to extradite him to the US. Yilmaz is responsible for the deaths of US troops. The decision violates the terms & spirit of our Extradition Treaty. https://t.co/hIAP6WErGJ— US-Botschaft Berlin (@usbotschaft) February 5, 2019
No doubt, the German officials citing "paperwork" and Germany's separation of powers as the ultimate reason left US officials further outraged. Hours after the meeting Whitaker publicly accused Germany of allowing Yilmaz to “escape justice by placing him on a plane to Turkey,” ignoring the US request.
He said in a public statement and rare public rebuke among NATO allies: “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.”
According to Bloomberg this could hurt future counter-terror cooperation between the two:
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.
Whitaker's own statement appeared to question the future closeness of US-German cooperation: “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,” he said. Other officials said the US was "blindsided" and that "no warning" had been given concerning Yilmaz's pending transfer.
The US State Department now will attempt to ensure justice is realized through the Turkish judicial system, which constitutes an even shakier enterprise. It's reportedly filed a "Red Notice" via Interpol to ensure his continued detention in his home country.
Meanwhile US officials have condemned as "false" Germany's claim that the US didn't file the right paperwork on Yilmaz in a timely fashion according to its legal requirements.