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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Deportation of suspected bin Laden bodyguard gets Seehofer in trouble

German interior minister blamed for man being sent to Tunisia last week despite court order against it

Germany's interior minister Horst Seehofer takes a hard line on immigration. APA / AFP 
Germany's interior minister Horst Seehofer takes a hard line on immigration. APA / AFP 

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was accused on Tuesday of having illegally deported a Tunisian man suspected to be an extremist militant who once served as Osama bin Laden's bodyguard.

German authorities sent the man, identified only as Sami A, to Tunisia last Friday despite previous concerns that he might be tortured there and despite a court ruling against his deportation the day before he was flown home.

German opposition politicians criticised Mr Seehofer's ministry for its handling of the case.

"You don't bend the rule book," Greens party leader Robert Habeck told the broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday.

Wolfgang Kubicki, deputy leader of the opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP), told broadcaster rbb: "If courts can no longer rely on the authorities telling them the truth, then things look dark in Germany."

Sami A told the best-selling Bild daily he had been told the decision to deport him had come "from the very top and I cannot do anything about it".

The interior ministry said that while it was politically important to deport the suspect quickly, it had not pressured authorities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia to accelerate the procedure. Deportations are usually a matter for individual states in Germany.

Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees said it had only learnt about the administrative court's ruling against Sami A's deportation when he was already on a flight to Tunisia.

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Read more: Alleged bin Laden bodyguard held in Tunisia

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Mr Seehofer, from the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, takes a hard line on immigration and asylum issues and almost toppled the government this month in a dispute over migrant policy.

Sami A applied unsuccessfully for asylum in Germany in 2006. He was accused of undergoing military and ideological training in 2000 at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and of being at different times a bodyguard for bin Laden, leader of the group. He denied the allegations but was arrested in June.

A spokesman at Tunisia's justice ministry told Bild the suspect only held Tunisian citizenship and rejected suggestions the man could be tortured.

Mr Seehofer also came under fire last week when an Afghan man deported to Kabul from Germany committed suicide after returning home.

Parliament has opened an investigation into the suspected exploitation by Mr Seehofer of his ministerial position for presenting his "master plan for migration" to his Christian Social Union (CSU) last month for party purposes.

An RTL/N-TV survey on Monday showed Mr Seehofer's popularity sliding ahead of an October regional election in Bavaria. Nearly two-thirds of Germans thought he should resign as interior minister, it said.