Britain OKs extradition of Algerian accused of terrorism

Man took part in attacks on transit, France says

April 05, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - A British court ordered yesterday the extradition to France of an Algerian man accused of taking part in a series of terrorist bombings in the Paris transit system in 1995 that killed eight people and wounded more than 200.

Rachid Ramda, 34, who had been held in Britain for more than seven years, appeared at Bow Street Magistrates' Court in central London. He faces French charges of conspiracy to murder and to cause explosions.

The ruling reversed a decision that had raised cross-Channel tensions last October when the High Court in London overruled British government approval for Ramda's extradition.

Ramda spoke yesterday only to confirm his name and took notes throughout the 20-minute hearing. He has 15 days to appeal the decision, which is expected to be approved by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Blunkett had complained about the original High Court decision. He is cracking down on Britain's immigration and asylum policy, which is considered the most lenient in Europe and which authorities say has been exploited by a shadowy Algerian terror network that has been operating in Britain.

Since the outbreak of civil war in Algeria between the military-backed government and groups of Islamic militants, more than 9,000 Algerians have sought asylum in Britain. Many of them have been turned down, but until recently Britain had difficulty removing rejected applicants because they were allowed to pursue a long and cumbersome appeal process that encouraged them to abscond.

Two illegal immigrants from Algeria, Brahim Benmerzouga, 31, and Baghdad Meziane, 31, were convicted Tuesday in Leicester and sentenced to 11-year terms for plotting to raise money for terror groups, including al-Qaida. Algerians have also been implicated in the discovery of the deadly toxin ricin in a North London apartment in January and terror arrests the same month in Manchester that led to the killing of a policeman.

Two Algerians have already been convicted in France in the 1995 attacks. Boualem Bensaid, 35, and Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, 35, were jailed for life last November by an anti-terrorist court in Paris for having carried out a bombing on July 25, 1995, in which the eight people were killed, and two others that year.

In January, court officials in Paris said the pair would have their sentences reviewed on appeal. At the time of their convictions, they were both serving 10-year terms for belonging to Algeria's Armed Islamic Group, which is officially designated a terrorist group by both the United States and France.

The group had claimed responsibility for the 1995 bombings, saying they were punishment for France's support of the military-backed government in Algiers.

French investigators say that in addition to bankrolling the plotters, Ramda served as a telephone link with the group's commanders in Algeria. They said that he would face trial by an anti-terrorist court in Paris if he were ever extradited.

The first and fatal bomb was on a commuter train at the St.-Michel station in the Latin Quarter. The other two were in a trash receptacle near the Maison-Blanche Metro station and on a commuter train near the Musee d'Orsay station.

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