Spain clears American of terror finance suspicion

AP News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 3:24 PM
Spain clears American of terror finance suspicion

A Spanish judge has cleared a U.S. citizen of suspicion that he financed al-Qaida's North African affiliate, and the American is demanding a public apology from the government, saying the publicity surrounding the case has ruined his life.

Investigating Magistrate Santiago Pedraz cited a lack of evidence against Mohamed Omar Dehbi, 44, who used to live in Texas but currently resides near Barcelona and runs a company that exports heavy machinery to North Africa. Dehbi is Algerian-born.

Dehbi was arrested last September and released two days later, although Judge Pedraz took away his passport, barred him from leaving Spain and ordered him to check in with police daily.

Pedraz, who kept the probe open, finally cleared Dehbi in an order dated March 8 and obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Now, Dehbi says, no one will do business with him and since his brief arrest his family has endured an ordeal in which his small daughters cried when they had to go to school because other kids called them "the daughters of the terrorist."

And if authorities do not apologize for releasing his name, photo and other personal information even before he went before a judge on Sept. 30, 2010,Debhi says he will sue Spain.

"I will fight by all legal means, to the last of my breath, in order to clean my family's honor and my own honor," Dehbi said.

A National Court official speaking on condition of anonymity said she understands Dehbi's anger but Spanish law does not prevent authorities from releasing detainees' names and photos even before they are charged.An Interior Ministry official said this was standard practice in terrorism cases.

Dehbi, who has been a U.S. citizen since 2000 and used to live in Katy, near Houston, was arrested after police alleged he financed al-Qaida by sending money to an associate in Algeria who is wanted in Spain on terror-related charges.

At the time of his arrest, the Spanish Interior Ministry said Dehbi was suspected of laundering money and sending some of it to the associate, Toufik Mizi, to be passed on to cells of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Mizi is wanted in Spain after eluding a police raid in 2008.

The ministry said then that Dehbi used bank transfers or human couriers to send Mizi amounts in excess of euro60,000 ($80,000), although it did not specify how much was sent altogether.

But in clearing Dehbi, Pedraz wrote, "There is no evidence that Mohamed Omar Dehbi's business activities and money movements are linked to terrorism financing."

Dehbi said Tuesday that even back in September when the judge released him, Judge Pedraz saw no evidence of money laundering and found only records that Dehbi had given euro1,600 to an intermediary to buy clothes for Mizi's kids _ including jerseys from the Barcelona football team _ and take them to Algeria.

Dehbi said the allegation that he sent euro60,000 or more to Algeria was "an outrageous lie."

Dehbi said the Spanish authorities have destroyed his reputation in a case that he said got major media attention in the United States, and it is up to Spain to help restore it.

"They need to apologize to me before the world because they destroyed my life before the world," Dehbi said.