A French anti-radicalization activist detained on arrival in Canada as a national security threat has been allowed to return home voluntarily, his supporters said Thursday.
Mourad Benchellali flew back to France late Wednesday, two days after Canadian immigration authorities refused to allow the former Guantanamo inmate into the country for a speaking tour.
“Thank you to one and all for your many messages of support that have been of great help to me,” Benchellali tweeted in French.
Canada Border Services Agency, which his lawyer said had initially refused to allow him to go home voluntarily and instead put him in a maximum-security prison, has refused to comment on the case.
Benchellali, 34, of Lyon, is widely known in Europe for his work trying to persuade young Muslims and others to resist the allure of extreme, militant Islam.
He had come to Canada at the request of a documentary filmmaker, and his treatment by Canadian authorities sparked outrage among supporters.
“He had come here to speak on (deradicalization) and they put him in prison for that,” said Eileen Thalenberg, the filmmaker who had organized the planned visit.
“It’s just a terrible, terrible message that they are sending. It’s unconscionable.”
Thalenberg said she had spoken to him on his arrival in Paris, where numerous reporters were on hand.
“It created a huge hullabaloo in France,” Thalenberg said.
Thalenberg’s company had arranged a series of meetings between Benchellali and young people in Montreal.
He was also apparently scheduled to lecture unspecified police and anti-terror experts on deradicalization but instead found himself in prison.
“We got him out at least, but he could not do the work he was supposed to do here,” Thalenberg said.
“(His) unique voice brings an important message to the discussion about countering violent extremism.”
Benchellali’s lawyer, Hadayt Nazami, had branded the situation as “absurd” given that his client had come to help Canada “fight terrorism.”
Supporters said Canadian intelligence authorities had cleared the way for him to enter Canada for the five-day visit and they were at a loss to explain why immigration agents thought differently.
Benchellali has written about going to Afghanistan at the request of his older brother for several months in 2001. What he thought would be an adventure vacation turned out to be attendance at an al-Qaida training camp.
He was captured trying to leave Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., and turned over to American forces, who transferred him to Guantanamo Bay.
The Americans subsequently released him into French custody in July 2004. He and four others were convicted in 2007 in France of criminal association with a terrorist enterprise but the convictions were overturned.Report Typo/Error