AN INTERNATIONALLY wanted terrorist with former links to al-Qaeda has been detained in Slovakia. Mustapha Labsi, an Algerian national who underwent terrorist training in Afghanistan, is being held at Bratislava's Justice Palace, the Nový Čas daily reported. The 37-year-old Labsi is listed by Interpol as a member of the Algerian terrorist organization Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat GSPC. Algeria has issued an international warrant on Labsi, who is now awaiting extradition.
Labsi's detention ends on June 11, at which time his lawyer will try to get him released, wrote the Sme daily.
Labsi faces the death penalty if extradited to Algeria. According to Sme, Slovakia would extradite Labsi only if Algeria guarantees that he will not be executed. Amnesty International assumes that Labsi would be exposed to torture, which means that, according to European human rights conventions, Slovakia can not extradite him.
The Slovak Police, Slovak Intelligence Service, Justice Ministry and prosecution have been holding meetings to decide on how to proceed if Algeria does not request Labsi's extradition.
Labsi first surfaces in terrorism literature as an Algerian immigrant to Canada who applied for refugee status on April 30, 1994. One of his first friends in his new country was fellow Algerian Ahmed Ressam, with whom he became involved in petty crime, according to Marc Sageman in Understanding Terror Networks (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).
Labsi and Ressam were first arrested in August 1994 for trying to steal an old woman's handbag; they graduated to stealing tourists' suitcases from hotel lobbies, as well as wallets and passports.
In early 1996, the two men moved into an apartment with Said Atmani, a Moroccan who had fought in Bosnia with the Muslims. They became petty thieves working for Mustapha Kamel, a local Muslim who sent the proceeds to the global jihad. Before long, the police planted a bug in their apartment, calling their group BOG - Bunch Of Guys - to signal that they were more pathetic than dangerous.
But after one of their friends returned from military training at al-Qaeda's Camp Khalden in Afghanistan, declaring that he had "found himself" as a warrior, Labsi and Ressam decided to give it a try. They left for Afghanistan in March 1998, spending 11 months completing small arms and advanced explosives courses, and joined a small five-member cell.
Their plan, according to Sageman, was to return to Canada and to use it as a base for an operation against the US - the bombing of the Los Angeles airport on New Year's Eve 1999, or the so-called Millennium Plot. Ressam, who had been given $12,000 by camp commandant Makhulif, returned via L.A., while Labsi went to England with Makhulif, who had been given charge of al-Qaeda's operations in the Western world. On December 14, 1999, Ressam was arrested trying to cross the US border after a border guard noticed he was sweating profusely. Ressam and Labsi were among those charged with conspiring to commit an act of terror.
In late September 2001, British police searched Labsi's house in north London, believing that he had provided training in Afghanistan to the 19 terrorists who attacked the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, and provided support services for the five attackers who passed through England, according to a report in the Times of London. Later that year, Italian anti-terrorist police intercepted a phone conversation between Islamic extremists in which they said that their "English brothers" had been "about to do it" when they were arrested.
According to UK detectives, Labsi is a "significant player" in Osama bin Laden's global network, responsible for planning, recruiting and fundraising. He was arrested with Abu Doha, alleged to be the mastermind behind the L.A. bombing plot, and the head of a Europe-wide network of Algerian guerrillas answerable to bin Laden. In addition, he is believed to be the UK contact of Abu Zubeidah, bin Laden's director of operations.
After serving a six-month sentence, Labsi was re-arrested on an extradition warrant to France for trial on charges of conspiracy to supply forged documentation in relation to an act of terrorism (the French allege he plotted to blow up the Lille police station prior to the 1996 G7 summit held there, according to court records). He was extradited to France in January 2006 to face trial, but was released from La Sante prison in Paris on April 7, 2006, and travelled to see his son in Slovakia, where he applied for asylum on April 27.
Once again, Labsi was taken into custody and held in detention near the Ukraine border, where officials threatened to send him to Algeria to face trial on terrorism charges. He was banned from Slovakia for 10 years and transferred to Austria in August 2006, but sent back to Slovakia on May 2, 2007, and was detained on May 4.
Labsi claims that during the almost five years he spent in prison in England, his Slovak wife was subjected to ill-treatment by the authorities, and had her child taken away from her as her health worsened. "My wife, who is not from this country, was shocked mentally and psychologically and she wanders in the streets without care or protection," he wrote for the Islamic Awakening web site.
11. Jun 2007 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson