Storm after Germany deports alleged Osama bin Laden bodyguard

Tunisian Sami Aidoudi says he was ‘kidnapped’ by Germany and faces torture at home

Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998. Tunisian national Sami Aidoudi has consistently denied having any contact with the al-Qaeda founder. File Photograph: AP

Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998. Tunisian national Sami Aidoudi has consistently denied having any contact with the al-Qaeda founder. File Photograph: AP


German authorities are coming under pressure to explain the illegal deportation of a Tunisian man who was allegedly a bodyguard for al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.

The 42-year-old Tunisian man, Sami Aidoudi, applied for asylum in Germany in 2007, was rejected, but remained living in the western city of Bochum with his wife and four children, claiming €1,167.84 in welfare a month.

Since April his case has become a political football in Germany. One side sees a textbook case about the absurdities of the country’s migration and asylum systems; the other side sees mainstream politicians reacting to far right and tabloid pressure by flexing their law-and-order muscles.

The case of Sami Aidoudi was highlighted by Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and the Bild tabloid. Immigration authorities said they could not deport him because to do so was illegal, given the risk of persecution and torture he faced in his homeland. German intelligence authorities view him as a security threat because he spent time in a camp in Afghanistan before the September 11th, 2001 attacks, but have never proven he was a member of al-Qaeda.

Poster boy

Mr Aidoudi has consistently denied having any contact with Osama bin Laden but Bild continued writing about him as a poster boy for Germany’s “dysfunctional deportation system”.

A month ago the case came onto the radar of federal interior minister Horst Seehofer, whose Christian Social Union (CSU) hopes to claw back its absolute majority in October’s state election in Bavaria on a law-and-order ticket.

A deportation order issued was annulled by a western German court on July 12th, citing the “considerable likelihood of torture” he faced on return to Tunisia. Hours later, at 3am, he was collected and flown to Tunisia.

“I was kidnapped from Germany,” he said later, adding that police ignored his protestations and mention of the court order. “I was not allowed see my lawyer. They also prevented me contacting my wife and children.”

When news of the deportation broke, Mr Seehofer blamed a “communication failure”: a faxed order overturning the deportation was allegedly received by immigration authorities after the plane carrying the man had taken off.

A court in Gelsenkirchen found the deportation “grossly unlawful” and an infringement of “fundamental principles of the rule of law” because no diplomatic commitment had been received from Tunisia ensuring Mr Aidoudi would not be tortured on his return.

It imposed a €10,000 fine on the city of Bochum, where Mr Aidoudi lived.

No charges

On his return to his homeland he was arrested but released after a judge found that no charges could be brought against him. Tunisian authorities say an investigation on suspicion of terrorism is ongoing, during which time he will be barred from leaving the country.

“At the moment it looks more like he is innocent than that he has any involvement in terrorist networks,” said a Tunisian justice ministry spokesman to Der Spiegel magazine.

After his release from prison in Tunisia, where he has not lived for 20 years, his German lawyer Seda Basay-Yildiz said she expected the state of North Rhine-Westphalia to follow the court ruling.

“The court ruled he was illegally deported and has to be returned,” said Ms Basay-Yildiz. “This illegal deportation took place apparently under political pressure and I consider it at odds with the rule of law.”

Whether her client ever returns to Germany is questionable. On Monday authorities in North Rhine Westphalia said that, because of his deportation, a “do not admit” flag was attached automatically to his file in the Schengen EU free travel database.