ASHLEY Bohacik of the Terrorism Research Center in the US says that Mustapha Labsi, the suspected terrorist detained in Slovakia on May 4, has a long history of "facilitating" extremists.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Who is Mustapha Labsi?
Ashley Bohacik (AB): He's an Algerian who has travelled around a lot - the Balkans, Canada, the UK - and he has a very significant network of individuals he is associated with. One of his primary arrests was in February 2001 in the UK, where he was detained after a two-month operation by MI5 and the anti-terrorism branch of Scotland Yard. He was part of a group of 10 Algerian extremists who were planning to carry out attacks in Europe. There isn't a lot of information about where they were planning to attack, although there are indications it was a market near the Strasbourg Cathedral. That was aborted when the German police arrested the four ringleaders on Christmas Day in 2000.
TSS: What was his role in this operation?
AB: He has a very long history of forging passports and other types of documents. He is connected with many individuals who have extensive criminal backgrounds. When he was in Canada he was engaged in petty criminal activity such as picking pockets and stealing people's purses.
TSS: Is he one of the many Algerians who fought with the Muslims in the Balkan wars as part of the Mujahedeen?
AB: There's no evidence of that, but in 1998 he travelled to Afghanistan to train in camps there with other Mujahedeen fighters who had fought in the Balkans. So he was connected with a lot of people from the Balkans area.
TSS: How significant is it that a young Muslim would go and train at such a camp? Is it a normal rite of passage, or a red flag for terrorist watchers?
AB: It means they are moving away from mere ideological support and wanting to take the next step, to move on to planning and actually setting off a bomb somewhere. In these camps they also meet many other extremists and forge a lot of other connections, so when they finish the training they have a broad network they can reach out to.
TSS: In Afghanistan, Labsi met Abu Zoubeida, al-Qaeda's terrorist operations facilitator, and Abu Doha, the top al-Qaeda man in the UK. Was it a turning point for him?
AB: It was certainly very important, because he met many extremists. He ended up living with some of them later on in Canada. It opened up doors for him.
TSS: US Assistant Attorney Steven Gonzalez identified Labsi as a "co-conspirator" in the plot to bomb the L.A. airport in 1999. Has he been charged with a crime in the US?
AB: He's a main suspect, but I'm not sure if he's been charged.
TSS: He spent years in jail waiting to see if he would be extradited to France, where he was promptly released in April 2006 after being sent there. Despite the accusations against him, he seems to have served little time.
AB: In a lot of the cases he is connected to, he's not directly involved, but he's providing support. In a lot of cases they haven't been able to say that he's a terrorist, more that he's facilitating terrorism. Likely they don't have enough evidence.
TSS: What does Algeria want him for?
AB: He is believed to be tied to the al-Qaeda branch in North Africa. Al-Qaeda merged with the GSPC [an Algerian terror group] earlier this year, and he is wanted on suspicion for his involvement. There is a lot of concern regarding the al-Qaeda branch in North Africa. There is a larger phenomenon of fighters coming back from Iraq and other conflict areas to North Africa, and getting involved in extremist activity. Al-Qaeda in North Africa is targeting Europe and says they want to take back Spain, because it was a former Muslim country. This new base of extremists will give them a new reach in Europe, especially France.
While there is no proof that he [Labsi] is facilitating this latest round of fighters returning from Iraq, he is the type of individual who could do this, due to his connections and past experience. He's a dangerous person.
11. Jun 2007 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson