Woman ‘not a suspect’ in Pakistan terror probe

A Swedish woman arrested in Pakistan three weeks ago, along with her child and two other Swedes, is not a terror suspect, a source close to the Pakistani authorities said on Thursday.

Woman 'not a suspect' in Pakistan terror probe

According to the TT news agency, the source said the woman, 19-year-old Safia Benaouda, is not suspected of having committed any terrorist crimes and that the Swedish foreign ministry should expect her and her two and a half-year-old boy to be released relatively soon.

As of Thursday afternoon in Pakistan, neither Sweden’s ambassador nor any other official had met with Benaouda, her boyfriend Munir Awad, or Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish national formerly held in Guantanamo Bay.

All three, along with Benaouda’s child, are currently sitting in a prison in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

They were arrested in Pakistan along with seven Turkish nationals, one Russian, one Iranian, as well as someone from Pakistan, because of suspected terrorist ties.

Benaouda’s mother Helena, head of the Muslim Council of Sweden, said in a statement issued to the Swedish media that she is worried and her priority is the safety of her grandson.

On Wednesday, she received confirmation that her daughter and grandson were apprehended in Pakistan on August 28th.

“I received the news from the Swedish embassy when I called them after having identified the little child in a picture,” said Helena Benaouda.

“Right now I feel both concern and anguish for my grandchild and for the situation in general, but also relief because the Pakistani admission means that some sort of contact has been established with my daughter, and through her, with the child. I am hopeful that I and the Swedish embassy will be able to work together in an appropriate manner, prioritizing the best interests of the child.”

Sources told Sveriges Radio (SR) that Benaouda was forced to travel to Pakistan on orders from Awad. The reason, she believed, was to meet other pious Muslims. During the trip, she began to suspect something was wrong, but by then it was too late for her to return to Sweden.

The police believe that the woman’s role may have been to deflect suspicion away from the group.

According to SR’s sources, a representative from Sweden’s intelligence services is now in Pakistan to look into the charges that the Swedes have ties to terrorists.

Swedish security service Säpo, however, said it doesn’t have any personnel in Pakistan, while the military intelligence service, MUST, said it “doesn’t comment on operations we’re involved with or on operations we’re not involved with”.


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.