French man with suspected links to 9/11 held in Pakistan

Thu, Jun 21, 2012, 01:00

PAKISTANI INTELLIGENCE officials have detained a French man of Algerian origin who is suspected of having links to an al-Qaeda cell that carried out the attacks of September 11th, 2001, a senior Pakistani official said yesterday.

The official identified the man as Naamen Meziche and said he had been captured in western Baluchistan province, between the main city of Quetta and the remote Iranian border, some time in the past month.

“He was trying to travel out, probably to Somalia,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The arrest was confirmation that intelligence co-operation was still operating at some level between Pakistan and the United States, despite a critical breakdown in relations over a range of issues, from Nato supply lines to Taliban infiltration into Afghanistan.

It also pointed to a pattern of militant migration from Waziristan, along the Afghan border, to safer locations in Somalia and Yemen, perhaps as a result of the rising toll of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.

Western intelligence assessments describe Meziche as in his early 40s and acting as a mid-level recruiter for Islamist extremist groups, including al-Qaeda. They say Meziche, who lived in Germany for an unspecified amount of time, was close to Mohammed Atta and other members of the cell in Hamburg, Germany, who participated in the September 11th attacks.

After September 2001, Meziche helped recruit militants for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to an account attributed to European officials in the Long War Journal, a blog that follows drone strikes and militant activity. At one point he was said to have been detained in Syria while trying to make his way into Iraq.

Meziche later travelled to Pakistan’s tribal belt, along the Afghan border, where he set up house. He was familiar with the area – in the 1990s he gained his introduction to the jihadist world at militant training camps in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

In Waziristan, western intelligence officials believe, Meziche sheltered under the umbrella of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an ethnic Uzbek group with close ties to al-Qaeda and which over the years has provided a gateway into the jihadi world for several recruits coming from Germany.

Speaking by phone from her home in Hamburg yesterday, Meziche’s ex-wife Miriam Fizazi said she had no information about his arrest.

“The last time I spoke to him was in December,” she said. “We had been in touch for quite some time while he was in Iran. I tried to convince him to come back, but he didn’t listen to me. I feel especially sorry for my children.” – (New York Times service)