French seek extradition of bomb suspects from UK

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The Independent Online


The French judicial authorities were yesterday preparing to request the extradition of two Algerians detained in central London on Saturday under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They believe one of the men, Abdelkader Benouis, alias Abou Fares, commanded the terrorist cells responsible for recent bomb attacks in Paris and Lyons.

The other was said by a French radio station to be Farouk Deneche, the brother of Abdelkrim Deneche, whom the French tried unsuccessfully to have extradited from Sweden last month in connection with the St Michel Metro bombing in July. Abdelkrim Deneche was freed from custody in Stockholm last week pending deportation from Sweden as an "undesirable alien".

Scotland Yard has refused to confirm or deny the identity of the two men held at the weekend, who are being questioned at the top-security Paddington Green police station in west London, or to give any details. French reports said the two were arrested on Saturday afternoon after several days of surveillance, as they were preparing to leave the country.

Mr Benouis had been named in French media reports the previous day as the commander and possible paymaster of the Paris-based co-ordinator of the bombings. He has lived in London since being granted political asylum in 1993 and edited the British edition of an Islamic newsletter, Al-Ansar.

It is not known whether the British authorities knew, when they granted asylum, that he had been sentenced to death in absentia for his presumed role in the 1992 Algiers airport bombing, in which nine people were killed.

French reports say that Mr Benouis, who has had at least three aliases, was the recipient of regular telephone calls from Paris made by Boualem Bensaid, one of 10 people detained by French police last week. The number of Mr Benouis's mobile phone is also said to have been found in notebooks belonging to Khaled Kelkal, the Algerian killed by police after a three- week manhunt in September.

Kelkal became a wanted man after his fingerprints were allegedly found on a bomb which failed to explode on the high-speed train line near Lyons in August. French sources now say that Mr Bensaid's fingerprints were found on that bomb, too, and on the remains of the bomb which exploded at Maison Blanche Metro station in Paris on the day of Kelkal's funeral. They also say that in Mr Bensaid's Paris flat police found quantities of sodium chlorate - one of the explosive agents common to the Paris and Lyons bombs - detailed maps and timetables of the Paris and Lyons Metro and railway networks, an automatic pistol and foreign bank documents.

The identification of Mr Benouis and the "London connection" by the French media followed several weeks of criticism from French officials about what they saw as Britain's lax approach to the activities of Islamic fundamentalists.

Saturday's arrests were accordingly greeted in Paris with a mixture of "we told them so" and condescending approval that the British authorities appeared to be acting on pledges of a harder line given to President Jacques Chirac in London 10 days ago.

However, French reports also noted that the Paris investigators needed to make out a better case for the extradition of Mr Benouis than they had for the extradition of Mr Deneche from Sweden. Otherwise, they warned, they could face similar embarrassment.