Bin Laden ‘bodyguard’

Court orders deported terror suspect Sami A. be returned to Germany

Gericht Kopie
Judge Ricarda Brandt is not amused. Source: DPA / Bernd Thissen

A court in Germany has ruled that last month’s deportation to Tunisia of a rejected asylum seeker suspected of supporting Islamist terror was unlawful. The move highlights the escalating mistrust between judges and politicians on the contentious asylum issue.

Bochum, a city in the Ruhr region where the man identified in Germany as Sami A. lived until his deportation, must allow his return and pay for his flight back to Germany, judges in Münster’s Higher Administrative Court found. Federal authorities are to issue a visa allowing for the man’s return.

In a scathing verdict, Judge Ricarda Brandt accused authorities from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia of withholding information from courts in the run-up to Sami A.’s deportation. “The limits of the state of law were obviously tested,” she said, adding that the state government went out of its way to prevent judges from imposing a deportation ban in time.

Asylum refused in 2006

The affair has received intense coverage in Germany because of Sami A.’s alleged links to Al Qaeda, which he denies. The Tunisian citizen moved to Germany two decades ago, but has been dogged by accusations of supporting terror for years. He allegedly traveled to Afghanistan for military training by Al Qaeda and worked as a bodyguard to bin Laden for a short time. After his return, Germany refused to grant him asylum in 2006. But authorities could not deport him because he was at risk of being tortured in Tunisia.

Politicians in North Rhine-Westphalia’s conservative state government criticized the verdict. “Judicial independence is highly valuable, but judges should always bear in mind that their decisions should correspond to the broader public’s sense of justice,” said Herbert Reul, the state’s interior minister.

The case shines a light on the mutual suspicion between Germany’s politicians and judges. While politicians — in particular conservatives — have been eager to crack down on asylum applicants and speed up deportations, judges accuse them of taking legal liberties.

This became evident in the case of Sami A., who was put on a plane to Tunis in the early hours of July 13 even though a court in Gelsenkirchen decided on the previous evening that he could not be deported. Police said they were not aware of the decision until it was too late.

Separation of powers is at stake

The same court subsequently ordered that the deportee be flown back to Germany. It slapped immigration authorities in Bochum with a fine of €10,000 ($11,370). Bochum appealed the ruling in a higher court in Münster, which confirmed the earlier decision on Wednesday.

“The Sami A. case raises questions about democracy and the rule of law — especially about the separation of powers and effective legal protection,” Judge Brandt said. She complained of “noticeable pressure” from German media and senior politicians in favor of his deportation during the court proceedings.

It looks unlikely, however, that Tunisian authorities will promptly return Sami A. to Germany. After he landed in Tunis last month, police immediately arrested him, but released him a few days later, as investigators had found no evidence of involvement in terrorist activities. However, the investigation in Tunisia is still running, and his passport was confiscated.

Prosecutors said Tunis will not hand over the suspect before they complete their investigation. “This ruling has no consequence for us,” the justice ministry said.

Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global. To reach the author:

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