France extradited the mentor of two Paris attackers – one who pledged allegiance to ISIS, the other who was sponsored by Al Qaeda – to Algeria on Monday after his release from prison.
Djamel Beghal, 52, was released from Vezin-le-Coquet prison near the western city of Rennes before being flown to Algiers from Charles De Gaulle airport.
He is suspected of being one of the militant group’s top recruiters in Europe and, because of his activities, he has languished in the French prison system since 2005.
A charming figure, he was able to bring together two inmates who would go on to launch attacks on the French capital that left 17 people dead in January 2017.
Amedy Coulibaly killed a policewoman and four customers at a Jewish supermarket days after Cherif Kouachi, with his brother, killed 12 people in an attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Beghal met both men at the Fleury-Merogis prison south of Paris. The pair visited him after their release from prison while he was serving house arrest. Mr Beghal has denied any involvement in the assaults on Paris in that month.
The Algerian native had been under surveillance for suspected radicalism by French intelligence agents since the mid-1990s, following his arrival in the country from his native Algeria when he was 21 years old. He eventually obtained French citizenship, working in a food factory and starting a family with a French woman. They moved to Britain for a short period and he is believed to have been radicalised in a London mosque before travelling to Afghanistan in 2000.
The recruiter was arrested again in 2010 as part of a plot to free him as well as Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, an Algerian who helped carry out Paris bomb attacks in 1995 which killed eight people.
The French struggle to contain the effects of Beghal’s radicalization of fellow prisoners has shed light on the wider problems in the French prison system, where militant ideas have spread to detainees who would later become homegrown French attackers.
France has been the worst victim of terror attacks on European soil in recent years. A wave of attacks since the Charlie Hebdo assault in 2015 have killed scores of people, including a truck-ramming in Nice and a beheading of a Catholic priest near the northern French town of Rouen.