25 Convicted in Paris Court in Killing of French Jew

A Paris court has convicted Youssouf Fofana for the 2006 kidnapping, torture and murder of a young French Jew and sentenced him to life in prison – a verdict that drew a thumbs-up sign from the head of the self-styled “gang of barbarians.” Twenty-four others, including eight women, also were found guilty in the kidnapping, torture and murder of Ilan Halimi, who was 23 years old. The case brought comparisons to the Dreyfus case and involved charges of racial and religious hatred.

Mr. Halimi, held captive for more than three weeks, was found naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks near railroad tracks in the Essonne region south of Paris on Feb. 13, 2006. He died on the way to the hospital. The horrific death revived worries in France about lingering anti-Semitism, considered an aggravating circumstance in this case, and led to deep anxiety in France’s Jewish community, the largest in western Europe.

Fofana describes himself as a hard-line salafist Islamist. Halimi’s mother, Ruth Halimi, said that if her son “had not been Jewish, he would not have been murdered.” She accused the police of being slow to accept the anti-Semitic nature of the crime, for fear of offending Muslims.

al-Qaeda group demands release of Abu Qatada or British hostage will be killed

al-Qaeda’s North African wing has threatened to kill a British tourist taken hostage in the Sahara unless the radical cleric and terrorism suspect Abu Qatada is released within 20 days. The kidnapped man was among four European tourists seized in January after their convoy was ambushed near the border of Niger and Mali, where they had been after attending a Tuareg festival.

Abu Qatada, once described by a Spanish judge as “Osama bin Laden’s righthand man in Europe”, is being held in Britain pending deportation to his native Jordan, where in 1999 he was convicted in his absence of conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to life imprisonment. The charges related to bombings at the American school and the Jerusalem hotel in Jordan. He was convicted a second time in 2000 over a plot to bomb tourists. Abu Qatada is one of the highest profile terror suspects held in Britain today, and when Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, signed his deportation order on 18 February she said: “I am keen to deport this dangerous individual as soon as I can.”

“We demand that Britain release Sheikh Abu Qatada, who is unjustly [held], for the release of its British citizen. We give it 20 days as of the issuance of this statement,” the group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said in a posting on an Islamist website yesterday. “When this period expires, the Mujahideen will kill the British hostage.”

The issue highlights the difficulty how to deal with dangerous Islamist prisoners and with al-Qaeda threats from outside Europe, while maintaining security in the UK and without endangering any hostages.

Deadline for Canadian Muslim woman held hostage by the Taliban extended

The Islamic militants holding a Canadian hostage at the Afghan-Pakistani border region have extended the deadline for their ransom demands to be met, according to an associate of the Taliban commander thought to be in control of her. In a video released last month, West Vancouver resident Beverly Giesbrecht, 53, said her captors would behead her if their demands for $350,000 (U.S.) weren’t met by the end of March. She was seized at gunpoint in the Bannu region of northern Pakistan in November.

Tricky dealings in hostage case

More than a month after their disappearance, the fate of two Austrian hostages who were captured while touring the Tunisian desert remains shrouded in uncertainty. But the case has been seen to expose the difficulty of controlling the vast expanses of the Sahara as al-Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate seeks to make its presence felt across the Maghreb. The group, which was blamed for a number of spectacular suicide bombings in Algeria last year, has raised its profile once more after claiming the kidnapping. It is now thought to be holding Wolfgang Ebner, 51, and Andrea Kloiber, 43, at an undisclosed location in northern Mali. According to statements posted on the internet, the kidnappers have demanded that militants held in Algeria and Tunisia be freed in return for the release of the Austrians. They have twice deferred a deadline, stating most recently that their request must be met by 6 April. There have been unconfirmed reports that the group is also asking for a ransom. By Aidan Lewis

CIA kidnapping trial resumes in Italy

On Wednesday, a court in Milan resumed the CIA-gate trial of 26 citizens accused in the February 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian imam in the city. Judge Oscar Magi suspended the trial last June to allow the Constitutional Court to deliberate over whether or not Milan investigators violated state secrecy laws by wiretapping military intelligence agents. Osama Mustafa Hassan, an imam better known as Abu Omar, was grabbed off a Milan street in 2003 in an operation coordinated by Italian military intelligence and the CIA. His seizure is thought to be among the many secret abductions since the September 2001 attacks in the United States. The trial involved 33 defendants, including a US air force colonel and 25 CIA agents.

German Authorities Close Islamic Center

By STEPHEN GRAHAM BERLIN – Authorities on Wednesday shut down an Islamic center once attended by a man who accuses the CIA of kidnapping him and sending him to a secret Afghan prison to be abused and interrogated. The man’s lawyer has linked the alleged kidnapping to the investigation of extremist activity at the center. The state government of Bavaria said Wednesday it was shutting down the Multi-Kultur-Haus association in the southern town of Neu-Ulm after it seized material urging Muslims to carry out suicide attacks in Iraq. Khaled al-Masri, a Kuwait-born German citizen who is suing the CIA for allegedly spiriting him to Afghanistan for interrogation, has said he visited the center several times before he was snatched. Al-Masri said he was taken while trying to enter Macedonia on New Year’s Eve 2003 and flown to Afghanistan, where he was subjected to “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” during five months in captivity, according to a lawsuit filed in a Virginia federal court. He was flown to Albania in late May 2004 and put on a plane back to Germany, he has said. Al-Masri has said his captors told him he was seized in a case of mistaken identity. His lawyer, however, has suggested that al-Masri was abducted because of his links to the Islamic association, which provided meetings, prayer rooms and other services for local Muslims. “In all interrogations, in Macedonia and Afghanistan, Khaled al-Masri was asked only about the Multi-Kultur-Haus in Ulm, about the people he knew there,” Manfred Gnjidic told Munich’s Abendzeitung newspaper last month. Al-Masri’s case has stoked debate in Germany about how to prevent terrorist attacks while safeguarding civil liberties. Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, for instance, is calling for tougher laws so that anyone who has trained in camps in Afghanistan can be prosecuted. In remarks published Wednesday, Uwe Schuenemann, the interior minister of Lower Saxony state, floated a new idea: placing electronic tags on foreign extremists who cannot be deported to their countries of origin because they might be tortured. “That would allow the observation of many of the roughly 3,000 potentially violent Islamists, hate preachers and fighters trained in foreign camps,” Schuenemann was quoted as saying in the daily Die Welt. It was unclear whether federal officials would take up the suggestion. Electronic tags were used in 2000 on a trial basis in one German state with prisoners on parole, but have not been adopted more widely. Al-Masri claims U.S. agents questioned him about associates including his friend Reda Seyam, an Egypt-born German citizen under investigation by German federal prosecutors on suspicion of supporting al-Qaida. Al-Masri has denied any connection to terrorism. Bavarian Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein told The Associated Press on Wednesday that investigators had noticed al-Masri visiting the Multi-Kultur-Haus but called him “rather a marginal figure.” Beckstein’s ministry said the association was promoting extremist ideas and armed “holy war.” Security officials confiscated and searched the association’s premises in Neu-Ulm Wednesday and froze its bank account. There was no mention of arrests or the results of the search.