Morocco Expels to Britain Algerian Fundamentalist Linked to US Attacks
Morocco on Thursday expelled detained Algerian Islamist leader Qamar Eddine Kherbane on a plane to Britain where he holds political asylum, the national security service said.
National security officials signed an "definitive expulsion order" after finding that they had no reason to detain Kherbane, who was arrested in Casablanca on Tuesday, the service told the MAP news agency.
Moroccan police had picked up Kherbane outside a Casablanca jail where he was visiting his brother-in-law Said Hamaz, jailed in 1994 for 15 years for arms trafficking to Algeria via Morocco.
An Algerian newspaper on Thursday directly linked Kherbane to Osama bin Laden -- Washington's prime suspect in last week's terrorist attacks in the United States.
The Moroccan security services said they had carried out "full checks" into Kherbane and found nothing to "show with certainty his direct involvement" in the arms dealing, so "it was decided to expel him."
Officials added that he had a British passport.
Kherane's lawyer, Mustapha Ramid, said the authorities had been "wise.”
"I was sure the police had nothing against my client and I congratulate the Moroccan authorities for this decision," he said.
Kherbane, who now lives in Britain, is a founding member of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Algerian political movement that was banned in 1992 after the army called off a general election the FIS nearly won.
An Algerian daily, El Khabar, reported that Kherbane was arrested after pressure was brought to bear by the United States.
El Khabar, citing "concordant sources,” had reported that Algiers would ask Morocco to extradite Kherbane, apparently in connection with the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
He is considered to be an active member of the Al Qaeda organization led by Osama bin Laden, Washington's prime suspect behind the attacks which killed more than 5,000 people in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, El Khabar said.
However, Kherbane's lawyer on Wednesday described him as "purely a politician" and "the deputy president of the FIS's executive body abroad."
Britain granted Kherbane political asylum in 1994.
Kherbane is said in the Algerian press to have met bin Laden several times, most recently in Sudan in 1998.
Reportedly with Bin Laden's advice, Kherbane helped set up the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), led by Hassan Hattab, a dissident from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in Algeria.
The GSPC and the rival GIA are the two extremist groups pursuing a bloody war against the Algiers government, which began in 1992 as the FIS was banned. The armed wing of the FIS itself was dissolved in 1999.
El Khabar said that Kherbane had been dismissed from the FIS late in 1991 for opting for armed struggle in Algeria as opposed to the political process. This was before the army called off the general election.
According to the Algerian press, Kherbane reportedly led Algerians who took part in a jihad, or holy war, against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
He is also said to have been in charge of a liaison office in Peshawar, Pakistan, for Algerians fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.
That office operated under the cover of an aid agency, the non-governmental International Rescue Islamist Organization (IRIO), and was reportedly funded by bin Laden -- RABAT (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)