Pakistan expels French al Qaeda suspect
09 October, 2013
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday deported a Frenchman accused of links to al Qaeda and suspected of recruiting fighters, diplomatic sources told AFP.
Intelligence officials believe the man, Naamen Meziche, was once connected to al Qaeda's so-called "Hamburg cell", which planned the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Meziche has been in Pakistani custody since being arrested in May 2012 in the southwest of the country along with three other suspected French militants, who were sent back to France in April. He was escorted onto a flight from Islamabad and arrived in Paris Tuesday afternoon French time, a diplomatic source said.
French police are expected to question him about links to extremist networks. At the time of his arrest, French intelligence officials described Meziche, who also holds an Algerian passport, as "an important al Qaeda cadre linked to the Hamburg cell", but his genuine significance in militant circles is unclear.
The case is likely to spark strong interest in France, where memories are still fresh of the murderous rampage by Mohammed Merah in March last year. Merah shot dead seven people in southwest France after returning from spending several months in Pakistan, saying he was acting on behalf of al Qaeda.
The three others arrested along with Meziche in southwest Pakistan were detained on their return to France for "associating with wrongdoers with a view to committing terrorist acts".
Sources say Meziche is likely to face charges under the same section of French law. It gives authorities broad powers to detain and prosecute a suspect for intending to carry out terrorist acts or contacting organisations suspected of terrorism.
Though Meziche is suspected of being a long-time al Qaeda member, no proof has yet emerged of his involvement in any specific act of terror, and security officials were divided about how big a player he is.
One French anti-terror officer told AFP this week Meziche was "a big fish – right in the historic heart of al Qaeda". But another source close to the case said it was "hard to say if he is an active player or a bit of a has-been".