July 27, 2018 / 2:37 PM / a year ago

Tunisia releases suspected bin Laden bodyguard, citing lack of evidence

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia has released a man two weeks after he was deported there from Germany on suspicion of being an Islamist militant who once served as Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard, a judiciary official said on Friday.

Tunis authorities had decided there was not enough evidence to keep holding Sami Aidoudi, but investigations would continue, said Sofian Sliti, spokesman of Tunisia’s anti-terrorist judiciary body.

German opposition and rights groups had criticized the decision to deport Aidoudi, saying he could face torture in his home country and citing a court decision that he should stay.

Aidoudi - referred to only as Sami A. in Germany - applied unsuccessfully for asylum there in 2006. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who has taken a tough line on immigration, accused him in May of having been bin Laden’s bodyguard and said he should be deported.

Aidoudi always denied the allegations but was arrested in June and deported a month later on July 13.

Germany’s interior ministry later denied opposition accusations that it had pressured authorities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia to accelerate the deportation.

German conservative lawmaker Armin Schuster said Tunisia’s decision to release the suspect proved Germany was right to extradite him.

“If the Tunisian authorities have released him, then that breaks up the argument that he could face torture there,” he told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

Germany should block Sami A. from re-entering the country if he tried to do so, he added.

Tunisia has won praise for its transition since authoritarian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in 2011. It has agreed on a constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights, held elections and largely avoided the political turmoil seen elsewhere in the region.

Human rights groups have on occasion accused members of security agencies of abuses against Islamist suspects - accusations denied by the authorities.

Reporting by Tarek Amara; Additional by Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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