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Terror suspect Swedes still detained: Pakistan

Terror suspect Swedes still detained: Pakistan

Published: 16 Sep 2009 16:50 GMT+02:00
Updated: 16 Sep 2009 16:50 GMT+02:00

Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Wednesday confirmed that four Swedish citizens are sitting in prison in the capital Islamabad, three weeks after their arrest in the north of the country.

The news reached Sweden’s foreign ministry via Sweden’s ambassador to Pakistan, Ulrika Sundberg, who visited the Pakistani ministry where she received a diplomatic note on the matter.

“In the note, the Pakistanis discuss who was arrested and they have also given a promise that the embassy will be allowed to visit them in the coming days according to normal consular procedures,” Swedish foreign ministry spokesperson Anders Jörle told the TT news agency.

The Swedes being held in Pakistan include Mehdi Ghezali, who spent two years in Guantánamo Bay following his 2001 arrest in Afghanistan, as well as 28-year-old Munir Awad and 19-year-old Safia Benaouda, and their two and a half-year-old boy.

Awad and Benaouda, who was pregnant at the time, were arrested in Kenya in 2007 after fleeing Somalia following the invasion of troops from Ethiopia.

They were held in an Ethiopian prison for three months on suspicions of being connected with Somali jihadists fighting against Ethiopia, but no formal charges were ever brought against them. Afterwards Benaouda claimed that investigators from the American FBI and CIA had been granted permission to question the prisoners.

They were eventually released following protests from the Swedish foreign ministry and the security service Säpo.

Until Wednesday, Pakistan has said that all of the people arrested on a bus on August 28th were terror suspects. Police say they got the impression that the group of foreigners, which included the Swedes, were in the company of a Pakistani man with military training who was suspected of involvement in terrorism.

His alleged mission was to take the foreigners from the city of Quetta to Miranshah, the main city in the lawless region of northern Waziristan, where they were to meet an alleged Taliban leader named Zahir Noor.

Northern Waziristan is part of a tribal area in northern Pakistan with a porous border to Afghanistan and which is considered a Taliban stronghold in Pakistan.

The central government in Pakistan has long struggled to gain control over the region, where the Pashtu culture has more in common with large parts of neighbouring Afghanistan.

The suspicions against Ghezali are said to be stronger than those against the other Swedes.

He is reported to have said that the group was on its way to Lahore to attend a harmless meeting with a Muslim revivalist movement, Tablighi Jamaat.

Jörle from the Swedish foreign ministry refused to comment on media reports that American and British intelligence agencies had been allowed to question the arrested Swedes.

On Tuesday, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt signaled the case was not a priority for the ministry.

“The four people will receive the consular assistance which everyone gets according to the law, regardless of what crimes they are suspected of. We’re not going to do any out of the ordinary prioritizing in this case,” said Jörle.

TT/David Landes (news@thelocal.se)

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