Terror suspect Swedes still detained: Pakistan

Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Wednesday confirmed that four Swedish citizens are sitting in prison in the capital Islamabad, three weeks after their arrest in the north of the country.

Terror suspect Swedes still detained: Pakistan

The news reached Sweden’s foreign ministry via Sweden’s ambassador to Pakistan, Ulrika Sundberg, who visited the Pakistani ministry where she received a diplomatic note on the matter.

“In the note, the Pakistanis discuss who was arrested and they have also given a promise that the embassy will be allowed to visit them in the coming days according to normal consular procedures,” Swedish foreign ministry spokesperson Anders Jörle told the TT news agency.

The Swedes being held in Pakistan include Mehdi Ghezali, who spent two years in Guantánamo Bay following his 2001 arrest in Afghanistan, as well as 28-year-old Munir Awad and 19-year-old Safia Benaouda, and their two and a half-year-old boy.

Awad and Benaouda, who was pregnant at the time, were arrested in Kenya in 2007 after fleeing Somalia following the invasion of troops from Ethiopia.

They were held in an Ethiopian prison for three months on suspicions of being connected with Somali jihadists fighting against Ethiopia, but no formal charges were ever brought against them. Afterwards Benaouda claimed that investigators from the American FBI and CIA had been granted permission to question the prisoners.

They were eventually released following protests from the Swedish foreign ministry and the security service Säpo.

Until Wednesday, Pakistan has said that all of the people arrested on a bus on August 28th were terror suspects. Police say they got the impression that the group of foreigners, which included the Swedes, were in the company of a Pakistani man with military training who was suspected of involvement in terrorism.

His alleged mission was to take the foreigners from the city of Quetta to Miranshah, the main city in the lawless region of northern Waziristan, where they were to meet an alleged Taliban leader named Zahir Noor.

Northern Waziristan is part of a tribal area in northern Pakistan with a porous border to Afghanistan and which is considered a Taliban stronghold in Pakistan.

The central government in Pakistan has long struggled to gain control over the region, where the Pashtu culture has more in common with large parts of neighbouring Afghanistan.

The suspicions against Ghezali are said to be stronger than those against the other Swedes.

He is reported to have said that the group was on its way to Lahore to attend a harmless meeting with a Muslim revivalist movement, Tablighi Jamaat.

Jörle from the Swedish foreign ministry refused to comment on media reports that American and British intelligence agencies had been allowed to question the arrested Swedes.

On Tuesday, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt signaled the case was not a priority for the ministry.

“The four people will receive the consular assistance which everyone gets according to the law, regardless of what crimes they are suspected of. We’re not going to do any out of the ordinary prioritizing in this case,” said Jörle.


Spain starts evacuating Afghan employees via Pakistan

Spain was on Monday evacuating via Pakistan Afghan helpers left behind when western forces quit Kabul, a government source confirmed on condition of anonymity.

A group of Afghan nationals stand on the tarmac after disembarking from the last Spanish evacuation flight at the Torrejon de Ardoz air base near Madrid in August. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)
A group of Afghan nationals stand on the tarmac after disembarking from the last Spanish evacuation flight at the Torrejon de Ardoz air base near Madrid in August. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

The government source declined to give any details of the move, citing security concerns.

But Spanish media, including daily El País and National Radio, reported that Madrid would bring close to 250 Afghan citizens, who had already crossed into Pakistan and would be flown out on military transport planes.

The first flight was expected to arrive on Monday evening.

Spain’s evacuations have been weeks in the making, with Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares visiting Pakistan and Qatar in early September to lay the groundwork.

Madrid evacuated over 2,000 people, most of them Afghans who had worked for Spain and their families, during the western withdrawal as the Taliban seized power in Kabul in August.

But the flights had to stop once the final American troops that had been protecting the Afghan capital’s airport left.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said in August that Spain would not “lose interest in the Afghans who had remained” in their country but wanted to leave.

The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, on Friday urged the bloc’s member states to host a “minimum” of between 10,000 and 20,000 more Afghan refugees.

“To welcome them, we have to evacuate them, and we’re getting down to it, but it’s not easy,” he said in Madrid.

The EU has said a demand by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to take in 42,500 Afghan refugees over five years can be achieved — although any decision lies with member states.