M’hamed Benyamina is an Algerian national. He had been living in France with his French wife and his two children working as a butcher. In august 2005, he travelled to Algeria to visit his family.
On 9 September 2005, M’hamed was arrested in Oran (Algeria) with his nephew Madjid while they were about to board their plane to Paris. The policemen from the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) justified their arrest mentioning a (hypothetical) arrest warrant for their implication in arson in Paris. Thirty minutes later, the two relatives were separated and taken to an unknown location.
Release of his nephew
On 13 September 2005, M’hamed’s nephew was released and taken to his family. He then returned safely to France. He said he was detained for four days in army barracks in Oran. He explained that he was made to lower his head when he arrived to his place of detention in order to prevent him from recognising it later. He was questioned about his uncle’s life in France. More importantly, he stated that he was told that the French authorities had requested the arrest of M’hamed because of his alleged involvement in a terrorist plot.
Arrest of his wife
On 23 September, M’hamed’s spouse was arrested and detained for two days. She was interrogated about her husband. She stated that French authorities told her that M’hamed had confessed his involvement in a terrorist group planning attacks in France. Her flat was searched and her hard drive was seized. The security forces informed her that her phone would be tapped.
Call for diplomatic assistance
As M’hamed’s was still disappeared, his wife sent three letters to the French president (Jacques Chirac at that time) but had no response. The letter she sent to the French consul in Oran (Algeria) was also left without any answer. A petition was signed by dozens of people in order to ask French authorities to do everything they could to obtain M’hamed’s release.
Arrest of an alleged terrorist group in France
On 28 September 2005, newspapers revealed that the French services received a piece of information from the Algerian intelligence which had arrested an individual (M’hamed) who was said to link a terrorist group between several countries. He would have indicated to the Algerian policemen the nature of the targets. It led to the arrest of a group of people in France.
M’hamed was said to be the head of Ansar al fath, a group created by Safé Bourada. He would have linked the group with the GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat). An ex-director of the French intelligence stated that the two men were both the heads of the group. The group was mainly accused of planning attacks against Parisian tube stations, Orly airport (France) and the DST head quarter (French intelligence).
Complaint in France
M’hamed’s family lodged a complaint in France since his whereabouts were still unknown. The lawyer highlighted many contradictions in the position adopted by the French authorities. He stated that if an arrest warrant had been issued in France (for the arson) or if M’hamed was linked to a terrorist group in France, then he should have been hold accountable in France. As for his alleged terrorist mastermind role, the lawyer noted that it was inconsistent with the fact that M’hamed had never been profiled in France. Similarly, he asked why he had not been arrested in Algeria since he visited his family twice in Algeria during the year 2005. Also, if M’hamed was known to be an important member of the GSPC, why was he not arrested as soon as he arrived in Algeria on 8 August 2005 or during his stay there. Why was he arrested on the day he was leaving under a false pretext? For all these reasons, M’hamed’s lawyer requested an inquiry to clarify the roles of the French and Algerian authorities, especially since the former accepted confessions probably extracted under duress by the latter and then used them to arrest other individuals in France. Moreover, France did not show any willingness to help M’hamed while his situation could not be ignored since his name was in many newspapers.
On 6 February 2006 (5 months after his arrest), M’hamed reappeared and was brought before a court in Algeria. He did not have access to a lawyer nor was he informed of his right to a legal counsel or a medical examination. M’hamed informed the judge that he had been ill-treated and forced to sign the interrogation report without reading it. Despite having been detained in police custody for 150 days (138 days beyond the legal limit in Algeria), the judge placed M’hamed in pre-trial custody and charged him with belonging to a terrorist group operating abroad” and “joining a terrorist group operating in Algeria”.
On 4 March 2006, M’hamed was released in the context of “national reconciliation” measures. However, according to the Human rights Council, the indictment division of the Algiers court issued a decision terminating criminal proceedings against M’hamed and ordering his release on 7 March 2006.
Description of his detention
After his release, M’hamed gave a partial account of his detention. He said that he was not informed of where he was detained during those five months. He stated that he was deprived from light and could not speak to anyone except to his interrogators. He was held in a small and dirty cell with no window or electricity. He was forced to sleep on a concrete floor for several weeks. He was allowed to use the toilet only twice a day (at midday and in the evening). As for the interrogations, they would occur every day at the beginning but then became more irregular. The interrogators accused him of having sent Muslim fighters to Iraq as well as having planned attacks in France.
Suspicion of torture
M’hamed did not wish to speak about his treatment while still in Algeria for fear of reprisals. Moreover, his lawyer stated that among the documents he was forced to sign was a declaration that he had been treated humanely and not been tortured or ill-treated during detention by the DRS. However, act of tortures and inhumane treatment have been reported by numerous individuals detained in DRS premises. It includes beating on the sole of the feet, electric shocks, suspension by the arms to the ceiling for prolonged period of time, rape threats... Another common method of torture is the so-called “chiffon method”: the victim is tied down while a piece of clothes is placed on his mouth and nose. He is then forced to swallow a large quantity of dirty water, urine or chemicals.
Plan to return to France
M’hamed’s French lawyer said to a newspaper that his client was about to get back to France to give his explanations to the French justice before the 31 March 2006.
On 2 April 2006, plain-clothes policemen from the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) kidnapped M’hamed while he was staying with his family at their house in Tiaret, in western Algeria. He was brought to DRS premises, where he was detained all night.
Lies to his family and first transfer
The following morning, M’hamed’s brother attempted to obtain information from the officers of the DRS premises. He was told that his brother had been interrogated and released. In reality, M’hamed had been transferred on 3 April, 11am, to the capital Algiers. He was detained for two days in the Antar barracks without any explanations nor any possibility to communicate with his family.
On 5 April 2006, he was transferred to Serkadj prison in Algiers. He did not see a lawyer and was still unaware of the reasons of his arrest.
Reason of his re-arrest
The Algerian minister of Justice, Tayeb Belaiz explained to the press that M’hamed had been rearrested because he had been released mistakenly. He could not benefit from the “national reconciliation” measures since he had been allegedly involved in planning attacks with explosives.
International letter rogatory
On 18 April 2006, the Italian judiciary issued an international letter rogatory in relation to two investigations opened in Italy. M’hamed was implicated in those investigations.
Complaint before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
On 26 May 2006,M’hamed’s lawyer in Algeria announced that he lodged a complaint through M’hamed’s French lawyer before UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention since there was no legal document for M’hamed imprisonment. The complaint contested the illegal and unjustified administrative detention as well as his placement under house arrest for an undetermined duration and in an unfixed location. The Algerian lawyer stressed that the legal situation of M’hamed was unknown. It was not known if he was in pre-trial custody. Moreover, there was no trace of his case-file neither in the instructive judge office nor at the accusation chamber.
Possible visit of a French investigative judge
On 28 May 2006, the Algerian newspaper El Khabar affirmed that the Algerian authorities were expecting the French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière to visit and interrogate M’hamed. The newspaper also affirmed that M’hamed had been visited by the Red cross and informed them about the conditions of his detention.
M’hamed had been transferred from Serkadji to Bouira after his arrest but the minister of Justice and the minister of the Interior differed in their justifications.
Letter to the French president
One of the two M’hamed’s Frenchs lawyers in France wrote a letter to the French president affirming that his kidnapping as well as his rearrest was exclusively due to the request of French authorities.
UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention opinion
ON 21 November 2006, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) adopted the opinion that the detention of M’hamed Benyamina was arbitrary as it was in violation of article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (Opinion No.38/2006, Algérie)
M’hamed was due to be brought to trial in July 2007, but the trial was postponed, as prison authorities apparently “forgot” to transfer him from prison to court.
Trial in Algeria
In December 2007, M’hamed was sentenced by a criminal court to three years of imprisonment for belonging to a terrorist group abroad. He was said to have admitted before the court that he had travelled to Syria with the intention of going to Iraq and that he met a recruiter of foreign fighters in Syria. When M’hamed Benyamina’s lawyer presented the court with the UN WGAD’s opinion, the prosecutor accused him of tarnishing the reputation of Algeria. M’hamed did not appeal the court’s decision as he was afraid his sentence could be increased.
Trial of Ansar al Fath in France
On 23 October 2008, the group arrested in France on the basis of M’hamed’s confessions was tried. Safé Bourada was sentenced to 15 years of prison for “criminal association in relation with a criminal entreprise” and for funding terrorism. Eight other persons were sentenced in 2008 from one to nine years.