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Swede suspects once arrested in Pakistan

Published: 30 Dec 2010 14:59 GMT+01:00
Updated: 30 Dec 2010 14:59 GMT+01:00

Two of the Swedish citizens arrested following a foiled terror plot against a Danish newspaper have previously been arrested in Pakistan.

Munir Awad, a 29-year-old Swede of Lebanese decent arrested near Copenhagen on Wednesday, was arrested in 2007 by Ethiopian forces in Somalia, together with several other Swedes, including his fiancée, then 17-year-old Safia Benaouda.

Awad was detained in Ethiopia for several months on suspicions of having fought on the side of Islamic forces in Somalia.

He was eventually released in May 2007.

Awad was arrested once again in August 2009, this time in Pakistan. Also detained were Benaouda, the couple’s toddler son, and Mehdi Ghezali, a former inmate of the US-operated Guantánamo Bay prison, as well as several other foreigners.

The Swedes were part of a group of foreigners thought by Pakistani police to be travelling in the company of a terror suspect who was bringing the group to the lawless region of northern Waziristan to meet Zahir Noor, a suspected Taliban leader.

The group was arrested on the border of the North-western province, a region heavily targeted in the ongoing civil war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Awad and the other Swedes were eventually released in October 2009. Following their return to Sweden, lawyers explained that the Swedes were in Pakistan as a part of a pilgrimage to celebrate Ramadan in a “larger Pakistani city”.

In addition, 37-year-old Sahbi Zalouti, who was arrested in the north Stockholm suburb of Järfälla on Wednesday in connection with the Danish terror plot, has been under surveillance by Swedish security service Säpo for some time, according to Swedish media reports.

He was arrested in Pakistan last year and spent 10 days in a Pakistani prison last year for having entered the country illegally. Zalouti claimed at the time he had traveled to Pakistan to spread information about Islam, according to tabloid Aftonbladet.

Speaking with the Expressen tabloid, the imam at a local mosque described Zalouti, a Swedish citizen of Tunisian decent, as “nice, pleasant and interested in knowing how to practice Islam".

However, the imam added that Zalouti had become increasingly devout about his Muslim faith over the last year and stopped attending services at the mosque about five months ago.

He was also recently divorced from his wife, and while the two remained friends, a friend tells Expressen he told her to return to Tunisia a few days ago.

According to Säpo, Zalouti was involved in the planning of the foiled Copenhagen attack, but decided to remain in Stockholm for reasons as yet unknown.

The Local/dl (news@thelocal.se)

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