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France to Investigate Four Freed by U.S.

August 01, 2004|From Reuters

PARIS — French judges today ordered four Frenchmen placed in custody after they were released by the U.S. military from detention in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, judicial sources said.

Less than a week after the four men were sent back to France, anti-terrorism judges placed Nizar Sassi, Mourad Benchallali, Imad Kanouni and Brahim Yadel under formal investigation -- one step short of bringing formal charges under French law.

The inquiry was launched on grounds of suspected "association with criminals engaged in a terrorist enterprise." Sassi and Benchallali also are being investigated for possession and use of forged passports, judicial sources said.

The investigation apparently focuses on alleged plans to attack Russian interests in France, including Moscow's embassy in Paris, as a reprisal for Russian actions in Chechnya.

French anti-terrorism judges Jean-Louis Bruguiere and Jean-Francois Ricard on Saturday called for the temporary detention of the four men, who were sent back to France on Tuesday after more than two years at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo.

The four were transferred to prisons near Paris after another judge confirmed their detention early today.

William Bourdon, a lawyer for Sassi, said the detention was unjustified.

"Tonight, France has set itself apart from all other European countries ... who have all released their nationals [returned from Guantanamo] after several hours of hearings," he said.

Five Britons were released from Guantanamo in March and freed within a day by British police without charge. A Danish citizen released from the camp in February also is free.

The French suspects' lawyers said they would launch an appeal to win the release of their clients, captured in late 2001 during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and held by American forces on suspicion of fighting for the ousted Taliban regime.

A court hearing could take place Tuesday, judicial sources said.

Three other Frenchmen remain at Guantanamo.

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