France remands 'top al-Qaeda man' Naamen Meziche

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File photo of Iranian guard on the borders of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan
Image caption,
Naamen Meziche was arrested in a border area where militants are known to operate

A Frenchman believed to have had links to a German al-Qaeda cell behind the 11 September attacks on the US has been remanded in custody in Paris.

Naamen Meziche, who is of Algerian descent, has been placed under formal investigation.

He was deported from Pakistan on Tuesday and faces charges of criminal conspiracy regarding a terrorist enterprise.

He was arrested in May last year in Pakistan close to the border with Iran.

Three other suspected French militants with whom he was detained were deported to France earlier this year.

'Big fish'

Naamen Meziche was considered an associate of al-Qaeda commander Younis al-Mauritani, who was believed to have been ordered by Osama Bin Laden to plan attacks in Australia, Europe and the US.

"This is a big fish, at the historic heart of al-Qaeda," a French anti-terrorism official told AFP news agency.

However, analysts say there appears to be little evidence of his involvement in any attack and the case against him is unclear.

Born in Paris in 1970, Naamen Meziche travelled first to Afghanistan in the 1990s before moving to Germany.

He was considered close to the so-called Hamburg cell that planned the al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.

He had reportedly recruited jihadists at a radical mosque in Hamburg that the authorities shut down in 2010 on suspicion of encouraging fanaticism.

Three of the 9/11 hijackers, including ringleader Mohammed Atta - who piloted the first plane into New York's World Trade Center - met regularly at the mosque before moving to the US.

A court source told French media that the case against Naamen Meziche would use information dating back to the 1990s provided by authorities in Germany.

The French government has been concerned about the risk of French citizens travelling to Pakistan for terror training, ever since the seven murders by Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah in March 2012.

Merah, who visited Pakistan and Afghanistan, killed a teacher and three young children at a Jewish school. In separate attacks he also killed three soldiers.