- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

From combined dispatches

MADRID — An Al Jazeera journalist who interviewed Osama bin Laden shortly after the September 11 attacks and covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was detained in Spain yesterday on suspicion of belonging to al Qaeda.

Syrian-born Tayssir Alouni was taken into custody in the southern Spanish city of Granada and taken to Madrid for questioning, Interior Ministry officials said.

Mr. Alouni, who has a Spanish passport, was in Spain with his wife to look into opening an office for the Arabic satellite-television network, a friend told the Associated Press.

The friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the journalist was an acquaintance of a carpenter arrested in Granada earlier this year on suspicion of links to bin Laden’s terror network.

Court sources in Madrid told Reuters news agency that Mr. Alouni was suspected of relaying secret messages to al Qaeda operatives in Europe, possibly including messages from bin Laden himself, and he was believed also to have delivered living expenses to them.

Court sources also said he was accused of belonging to the same cell as Imad Eddim Barakat Yarkas, also known as Abu Dahdah, who is being held in Spain on suspicion of playing a role in the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Alouni’s wife, Fatima, told radio station SER that her husband “is a very peaceful man.”

“My husband is not a member of al Qaeda,” she said.

Ibrahim Hilal, Al Jazeera’s editor in chief, condemned the detention and said the station was trying to gain his release.

“Anyone can have acquaintances who are linked to al Qaeda, and this is not a crime,” Mr. Hilal told AP. “It is only a crime when these relations are used in an illegal way and not when they are used for journalistic purposes.”

Mr. Alouni was ordered detained by Judge Baltasar Garzon, best known for an unsuccessful bid to put former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on trial. Judge Garzon is also overseeing the Abu Dahdah case.

Earlier this year, Spanish authorities arrested 16 suspected al Qaeda members in Barcelona and other northeast Spanish cities on a request from French authorities investigating a thwarted bombing plot in Strasbourg. None of the 16 has been charged and most were subsequently released.

The carpenter was arrested in a separate case.

Mr. Alouni’s interview with bin Laden was believed to have been conducted in October 2001. He is renowned for covering the fall of Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers for Al Jazeera, which made its name by airing statements by bin Laden and other al Qaeda members after the September 11 attacks.

He was one of a few international correspondents allowed to operate under the Taliban regime and his close ties to that now-deposed Afghan government raised questions about his objectivity and Al Jazeera’s coverage.

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