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Pakistan expels ‘important’ French al Qaeda suspect

Naamen Meziche, a French national of Algerian origin accused of links to al Qaeda, was deported on Tuesday from Pakistan to France, where he was arrested upon arrival, according to French judicial sources.

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A French national described as an “important” al Qaeda leader was deported from Pakistan and arrested upon his arrival in France on Tuesday, according to French sources.

Naamen Meziche was taken into custody by the French intelligence agency DCRI (Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur) on Tuesday, a judicial source told the AFP.

A Frenchman of Algerian origin who also holds an Algerian passport, Meziche was flown from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad to Paris via Dubai, according to French news media.

Meziche was arrested in southwestern Pakistan in May 2012 along with three other suspected French jihadists, who were expelled to France in April.

At the time of his arrest, French intelligence sources described Meziche as an “important” al Qaeda leader linked to the so-called “Hamburg cell” that planned the 9/11 attacks.

Pakistani sources said the Frenchman, aged around 43, had links to Younis al-Mauritani, a suspected al Qaeda chief who is believed to have been personally charged by Osama bin Laden to plan attacks in Europe and the US.

Al-Mauritani was captured in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta months before the four Frenchmen were arrested. The Mauritanian national was extradited to his homeland in May.

Meziche’s deportation after more than 16 months in detention in Pakistan has sparked hopes that more details of the jihadist trail from Europe to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region will be revealed.

Citing unnamed but reliable sources, a French news site on Tuesday revealed that Meziche had “remained mute” during his interrogations in Pakistan.

But the three other French nationals who were arrested with Meziche are believed to have revealed that they travelled to Pakistan to “deepen their study of Islam and to fight in Afghanistan”.

‘Blow back’ fears by ‘big fish’ or ‘lone wolves’

Western intelligence officials have long worried about what is called “blow-back” – or trained and indoctrinated jihadists with Western nationalities returning from areas such as Pakistan and Somalia to stage attacks at home.

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France witnessed a deadly, high-profile case of blow-back last year, when “Toulouse gunman” Mohammed Merah – another Frenchman of Algerian descent – returned from a trip to Pakistan to target French soldiers and Jewish civilians in the southern French cities of Toulouse and Montauban.

There have been questions about Meziche’s stature in the al Qaeda hierarchy. Some French counter-terror sources have called him “a big fish” while others say there is little proof that he was involved in planning a specific attack. Sceptics also note that his role within the organisation had diminished since 2001.

But the Toulouse shootings as well as recent “lone wolf” attacks in the West have alerted security officials to the threats posed by indoctrinated if not necessarily senior al Qaeda figures.

Meziche is likely to face charges for "associating with wrongdoers with a view to committing terrorist acts".

The three other French nationals who were deported from Pakistan in April face similar 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.
 

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