Scandal grows over 'unlawful' deportation of alleged bin Laden bodyguard

AFP/DPA/The Local
AFP/DPA/The Local - [email protected]
Scandal grows over 'unlawful' deportation of alleged bin Laden bodyguard
A deportation facility in Darmstadt. Photo: DPA

The over-hasty deportation of an alleged Islamist to Tunisia is raising awkward questions for German authorities all the way up to the Interior Ministry.


Forty-one-year-old Sami A., allegedly the former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, was deported to Tunisia on Friday. 

Within hours, a German administrative court had ruled that the deportation was 'grossly unlawful' and that Sami A. must be brought back as he was at risk of being tortured in Tunisia.

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and the foreigner office in Sami A.'s city of Bochum, which were responsible for the deportation, have now launched a legal battle over whether the suspected Islamist should be returned.

It's a fight that might cause embarrassment for Germany’s embattled Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who showed a personal interest in the case and had joined German tabloid Bild in campaigning to deport Sami A. as soon as possible.

Sami A. was born in 1976 in Tunisia and moved to Germany 1997 to study. Whilst he has never been convicted of any crime, he is accused of attending an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and of serving as a personal bodyguard to Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

On his return to Germany, Sami A. moved to Bochum, where authorities claim he kept contact with radical Salafist circles. The deportee, who denies all accusations against him, lived in the west German city until last week with his wife and four children, all German citizens.

Outrage over his presence has grown in recent months as the mood in Germany hardens towards rejected asylum seekers. 

An order for deportation

Seehofer got his wish when, on June 20th, the German migration office (BAMF) ordered Sami A.’s immediate deportation.

Sami A. appealed to the administrative court in Gelsenkirchen, which ruled on Thursday evening against deportation because he could face torture in Tunisia. 

But by the time Friday morning when the court sent a memo to BAMF explaining their decision, Bochum authorities had already put Sami A. on the plane bound for Tunisia.

SEE ALSO: Court to bring deported bin Laden bodyguard back to Germany

The deportee is represented by Tunisian lawyer Seif Eddine Makhlouf, who has demanded his immediate return to Germany.

Sami. A should never have been sent to Tunisia, the lawyer told Bild, and called the move an “unbelievable scandal.”

Questions are now being asked about who knew what, and when, about the planned deportation and the Gelesenkirchen court's decision to halt it.

”Either it’s absolutely embarrassing chaos or it stinks to high heaven,” Green party head Robert Habeck told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday. The suspicion, he added, was that authorities deliberately ignored a court decision.

Conflicting statements

Both BAMF and the Interior Ministry deny wrongdoing but conflicting statements about the timing of the deportation on Monday threatened to blow up into a full blown scandal.

BAMF has also said it will appeal against the decision to reverse the deportation. But even if the Gelsenkirchen court sticks to its guns, it may not be possible to bring Sami A. back to Germany.

Tunisians authorities are insisting on launching their own investigation and now have maximum of 15 days to hold him before he must appear before a judge. 

This isn’t the first time German authorities have slipped up in this way. In 2017 an asylum seeker was deported to Afghanistan although his case was still being heard in court.

The man was returned to Germany last December on the basis that his previous work with US forces in his country would endanger him. He now has refugee status and lives in Germany.

The number of deportations from Germany to Tunisia has risen sharply in the past years from 17 in 2015 to 251 last year and 155 in the first five months of 2018, DPA reported on Monday.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have raised concerns about torture in Tunisian prisons.



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