France suspends arrest warrants issued over 1965 political kidnapping

France has suspended the international arrest warrants it issued Friday for four Moroccans over the 1965 abduction of a high-profile opponent to Morocco's then King Hassan II, an event that has embarrassed the two nations for four decades.


France issued international arrest warrants for four Moroccans over the 1965 abduction of an opponent to Morocco's then King Hassan II on Friday, but later suspended them, citing a request for information from Interpol.

A French justice ministry spokesman said earlier on Friday that four arrest warrants were sent to Interpol, the international police organisation, and would be issued worldwide.

The head of Morocco's Royal Gendarmerie and a former intelligence chief were among the suspects being sought.

Mehdi ben Barka, a hero for the international left, was kidnapped in broad daylight in front of the smart Lipp restaurant in the heart of Paris and his fate remains unknown. French investigators believe he was tortured and killed.

The case has been a cause celebre for Moroccan advocates of greater political freedom in the kingdom, but it remains politically sensitive in Rabat, where the late Hassan's son Mohammed succeeded him as king in 1999.

Hours after the justice ministry announcement, the Paris prosecutor's office said it was suspending the issuance of the international arrest warrants because Interpol was seeking additional information from the judge overseeing the case.

"In effect, Interpol has requested more information so that the arrest warrants can be implemented. Without these precisions, they cannot be," the prosecutor's office said.

The information requested would allow the individuals targeted to be identified, it said.

But there were suspicions that the shifting stance might reflect efforts to avoid political strains given that the event has already embarrassed France and Morocco for decades.

Maurice Buttin, 80, the ben Barka family lawyer in France since 1965, said: "The prosecutor's office is blocking the situation again. This shows how things work in France."  

Those targeted were: Hosni Benslimane, head of the powerful Adarak el Malaki, or Royal Gendarmerie, for more than four decades; Abdelkader Kadiri, a former head of intelligence; and Miloud Tounsi and Abdelhak Achaachi, two ex-agents.

A murder investigation into the case has been open in France since 1975 and detectives say they have evidence that the abduction was carried out by French criminals acting on orders from Moroccan intelligence officers.

During King Hassan's 38-year reign, dissidents were routinely jailed, tortured or killed.

Human rights activists accuse the French authorities of turning a blind eye to such abuses and of deliberately dragging their feet in the ben Barka affair to avoid damaging ties with Morocco, a former French colony.

The reform-minded King Mohammed is credited with turning Morocco into a more tolerant state, but the monarchy and the security services remain untouchable.

The four arrest warrants date back to 2007, when they were issued by a French investigating magistrate. The warrants immediately caused diplomatic tensions, with newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy on a visit to Morocco at the time.

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