France probes suspect in murder of Algerian opposition figure

France probes suspect in murder of Algerian opposition figure

AFP, 16 august 2008

PARIS (AFP) — A senior Algerian official suspected of masterminding the murder in France of a political opponent has been put under investigation for complicity, French judicial officials said Saturday.

Mohamed Ziane Hassani, in charge of Algerian state protocol, was wanted under an international arrest warrant and detained Thursday at Marseille-Marignane airport after arriving from Algiers.

He was taken to Paris on Friday and charged with complicity in the murder of Algerian lawyer Ali Mecili who was gunned down on April 7, 1987 outside his Paris home, aged 47. Mecili had been living in France since 1965.

On Friday Hassani was ordered released by a Paris judge on condition that he not leave the Paris region and inform authorities of his residence in the French capital.

An investigating judge is to question him by the end of August.

Hassani carried a diplomatic passport when he was detained by Marseille airport police but does not enjoy diplomatic immunity. He had tried to persuade police officers and a prosecutor that his was a case of mistaken identity, but failed, police said.

A Paris judge had signed the orders for the arrest of Hassani and the suspected killer, Abdelmalek Amellouet, in December last year.

Former Algerian independence fighter Hocine Ait Ahmed, leader of the opposition Socialist Forces Front (FFS) and a major opposition figure who was living in exile in Switzerland at the time of the murder, accused « Algerian special services » of being behind the killing.

Mecili was Ait Ahmed’s spokesman.

He played a major role between Ait Ahmed and Ahmed Ben Bella, Algeria’s first president, who in 1985 founded a group opposed to president Chadli Bendjedid.

Ben Bella was also positive that Mecili’s murder had been ordered by Algiers.

A lawyer for Mecili’s family, Antoine Comte, told AFP Hassani’s arrest was good news but added: « It must not happen what has happened in this case before, namely that suspects are deported to Algeria before they can be brought to justice in France.

« Justice must be spoken in this case in France, » Comte added.

Earlier French proceedings in the case had been stopped in 1993, at the request of a public prosecutor, but civil action was pursued by Mecili’s family.

Hassani, who is in charge of protocol at the Algerian foreign ministry, was mentioned in a book published by journalist Michel Naudy in April 1993, who had cited two witnesses.