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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Alleged bin Laden bodyguard held in Tunisia

Suspect lived in Germany for decades and was on security watch list

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at a news conference in Khost, Afghanistan in 1998. Mazhar Ali Khan / AP Photo
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at a news conference in Khost, Afghanistan in 1998. Mazhar Ali Khan / AP Photo

An alleged former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden has been arrested in Tunisia after being deported from Germany last week.

A Tunisian prosecution spokesman said the man, identified as Sami A by German authorities and Sami Idoudi in Tunisia, was placed in custody on the orders of the prosecutor in Tunis.

The 42-year-old was wanted on “suspicion of involvement in extremist activities in Germany”, spokesman Sofiene Sliti said.

He said Tunisian law allowed cases to be brought against citizens accused of terrorism crimes abroad.

Sami A had lived in Germany for two decades and was considered a security threat by German authorities over suspected ties to extremist groups. He has for years had to report to police but was never charged with an offence.

He denies being the former bodyguard of late Al Qaeda leader bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks on the United States.

However, judges in a 2015 terror case in the German city of Muenster said they believed Sami A underwent military training at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in 1999 and 2000 and belonged to bin Laden's team of guards.

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Read more: The Al Qaeda affiliate behind latest attack on Tunisia’s soldiers

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He was flown to Tunis on Friday after a long battle against his deportation from Germany. His asylum application was denied in 2007 but he was allowed to remain in the country after claiming that he faced possible torture in Tunisia.

The legal dispute is set to continue as a court in the city of Gelsenkirchen issued an order against the deportation late on Thursday, upholding the assessment that the suspect potentially faced "torture and inhumane treatment", but the decision only reached federal authorities on Friday morning, after Sami A’s flight to Tunisia had taken off, DPA news agency reported.

An unrelated court ruling last month involving another Tunisian man - accused over a 2015 attack on Tunis' Bardo museum - helped pave the way for Sami A's expulsion.

In that instance, German judges found that the accused did not face the threat of the death penalty as Tunis has had a moratorium on implementing capital punishment since 1991.

Germany's hardline interior minister, Horst Seehofer, seized on the precedent to say he hoped Sami A would be next, calling on migration officers to make the case "a priority".

The Bild newspaper led a campaign against Sami A's presence in Germany, with revelations that he collected nearly 1,200 euros (Dh5,150) a month in welfare sparking outrage.

Sami A has a wife and children who are German citizens.