Algerian dissident seeks UK asylum

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The Independent Online
AN ALGERIAN opposition figure at the centre of the row between Britain and France over the UK providing haven for Islamic militants has applied for asylum in Britain. Lawyers acting for Muhammad Dnidni say that the outburst by Charles Pasqua, the French Interior Minister, against Britain was a political ploy to prevent him being granted asylum.

His presence has already aroused the interest of the French authorities. A year ago, the Interior Ministry sent him a letter warning him they were investigating whether he was behind a news-sheet, Tafsira, which called for attacks on the French. He denied having anything to do with its publication.

Like all political exiles in Britain he has occasional contact with Special Branch officers. One morning in April, Special Branch officers came with a French investigating magistrate in tow in a rare act of co-ordination. The French official asked Mr Dnidni about a fax sent from London to Islamist activists inciting attacks on the French. According to those familiar with the case, Mr Dnidni denied any knowledge of the fax, and said the originating number and machine were different from his.

Muhammad Dnidni is one of the only candidates of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) who won in the first round of parliamentary elections. The army cancelled the second round in January 1992, and declared a state of emergency. Among subsequent measures introduced by the army was the banning of all FIS and pro-FIS publications, including al-Balagh weekly newspaper, of which Mr Dnidni was managing editor.

He made his way to Britain, where last November he applied for political asylum. He was interviewed in May by Home Office officials who are now considering his application. Supporters of Mr Dnidni point out that he has not been accused of any criminal offence, let alone convicted. Furthermore, the FIS is not a banned organisation.

The Foreign Office in London maintains the FIS has no official status, it has no contact with the organisation, and it has no contact with other organisations behind the violence in Algeria.

Many Middle East countries, particularly those which it is British policy to support, are exasperated with the lax attitude of the British authorities towards Islamist activists who have come to London in order to operate more freely. The Tunisians are upset that the leader of an-Nahda (Renaissance) Islamic party has been granted political asylum in Britain. And a Saudi Islamic dissident, Muhammad al-Masaari, has also applied for asylum in Britain.

Mr Pasqua's attack on Britain, Germany and the United States came a day after Muslim militants drove a booby-trapped car into the French embassy compound in Algiers and shot dead five embassy staff and guards.

There was no suggestion that the FIS was behind the embassy attack. Indeed a group far more militant than the FIS, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), said in a message faxed to the London-based Arabic daily, al-Hayat, that it had carried out the attack.

This has not stopped the French from taking action against the FIS. At dawn yesterday, police swooped on the homes of nine Islamists - including two imams - in Paris, Lyons, Provence and northern France. Six were served with expulsion orders on grounds they threatened state security, but are being interned because of the risks they face if deported back to Algeria.

They bring the number of Islamist militants detained since Thursday to 16. They are being held in disused army barracks in the village of Folembray, north- east of Paris. Among the militants incarcerated in Folembray, surrounded by barbed-wire fences and armed gendarmes, is the leader of the Algerian Fraternity in France (FAF), Djaffar al-Houari. Mr Pasqua says the FAF is a front for the FIS.

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