Austrian Radical Freed After Months in Afghan Custody

Austrian radical Herbert Fritz, an 84-year-old with alleged ties to the far-right extremist scene, has arrived in Doha, Qatar, after being freed by Taliban authorities, as reported by Austrian media. Fritz was arrested in May for defying Austria’s travel warnings to Afghanistan, which had returned to Taliban rule in 2021. Despite his ordeal, Fritz expressed an intention to visit again. The Austrian authorities thanked Qatar for facilitating his release. They also mentioned the possibility of Fritz receiving medical care in Doha before returning home. The Taliban government did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

The Austrian newspaper Der Standard reported that Fritz had a penchant for visiting “dangerous” places. This also includes Afghanistan in the 1980s and eastern Ukraine in recent years. Last year, attempting to portray Taliban-ruled Afghanistan as safe, he published an article titled “Vacations with the Taliban.” Following this, the Taliban arrested him on suspicion of espionage. The Austrian media suggested that his travel reports may have aimed to present Afghanistan as safe for the return of Afghan refugees.

According to reports, Fritz previously met with Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, currently imprisoned in Turkey. He also allegedly visited fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the primary component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, in Syria’s northeast. Turkey considers the YPG an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey designates it as a terrorist organization by Ankara and many Western allies.

The YPG: People’s Protection Units

The YPG, People’s Protection Units, rose to prominence as a formidable armed group during the Syrian civil war in 2011. It gained influence in the north as Syrian government forces withdrew to quell the uprisings against President Bashar al-Assad in the country.

Affiliated with the main Syrian Kurdish faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the YPG has a female counterpart known as the YPJ. Initially concentrated in three predominantly Kurdish regions of northern Syria, referred to as Rojava in Kurdish, the area inhabits 2 million Kurds. Kurdish-led authorities have established autonomous governing bodies in Rojava since the onset of the Syrian conflict.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was initially designated as a terrorist organization under the Criminal Code on December 17, 2005. Subsequent re-listings occurred on September 28, 2007, September 8, 2009, August 18, 2012, August 11, 2015, and August 4, 2018. The PKK is an ideological, violent extremist organization. Abdullah Ocalan founded the group in 1978 with a nationalist and revolutionary orientation rooted in Marxist-Leninist principles.

The core of the PKK’s nationalist ideology revolves around advocating for the rights of Kurds to preserve their ethnic identity. In addition to these nationalist objectives, the PKK seeks to assert Kurdish political dominance, often targeting rival political parties. However, the primary focus of the PKK’s attacks is on the Turkish government and security forces.