France to award Moroccan intelligence chief Legion d'honneur after row

Reuters , Saturday 14 Feb 2015

France will give its highest award, the Legion d'honneur, to the head of Morocco's domestic intelligence, Abdellatif Hammouchi, who faces lawsuits over alleged torture.

A year ago French authorities sought to question Hammouchi about the allegations while he was visiting Paris, sparking a row between France and Morocco. The Moroccan government suspended cooperation agreements with France in protest.

In January the two countries resumed cooperation after months of tough talks. The resumption was important for France, which wants intelligence from Morocco and other North African countries on terrorism suspects, particularly after last month's killings at the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish store in Paris.

"It (France) will show again its respect for him (Hammouchi) by awarding him this time Les Insignes d'Officier de la Legion d'honneur," French Interior Minister Bernard Casaneuve told reporters in the Moroccan capital Rabat on Saturday.

Hammouchi received a lower degree of the order in 2011. He has made no public comment on the lawsuits brought against him by Moroccan-French activists. It was not clear what, if any, what would be the next steps in the lawsuits against him.

Morocco's domestic intelligence, the DGST, has often been accused by Moroccan and international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, of torturing activists and terrorism suspects, sometimes on behalf of the United States' CIA.

Casaneuve, on his first visit to Morocco first since the two countries resumed cooperation, said: "We have been facing the same challenges, those of terrorist groups which drag some of our nationals to the lines of Daesh group (the Islamic State)."

North African and European countries have been the biggest suppliers of Islamic State fighters, including around 2,000 from Morocco, 3,000 from Tunisia and more than 1,000 from France.

Many of the group's militants have at least two nationalities.

"We have agreed to multiply our contacts and meetings between the security officers of the two countries... to face terrorism and organised crime in all its forms," Moroccan Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad said. 

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