Afghan under watch in France convicted for trip into town

Associated Press

Paris — An Afghan evacuee under surveillance in France for possible indirect links to the Taliban was convicted and given a suspended sentence Wednesday for leaving the hotel where he was restricted and traveling to Paris.

The man, identified only as Ahmat M., was among five evacuees suspected of direct or indirect links with the Taliban, but not the principle suspect. He was arrested Monday in Paris after leaving the hotel east of the capital where all five men were confined along with family members.

Ahmat M. was given a 10-month suspended prison sentence at the urgent court hearing Wednesday, just days after his arrival in France.

This photo provided Tuesday Aug. 24, 2021 by the French Army shows French soldiers escorting people at Kabul airport, Afghanistan, Saturday Aug. 21, 2021.

The prosecutor had sought a 12-month sentence with six months suspended for failing to respect an administrative surveillance order. The maximum possible sentence was three years in prison and a 45,000-euro ($52,875) fine if convicted, the prosecutor's office said.

During the hearing, the 30-year-old, who arrived in France last weekend, claimed he had been a prosecutor in Afghanistan and went to Paris on Monday with another person to buy medication for headaches, according to French media. The other man said the defendant wanted to buy a telephone card.

“This isn't the file of a Taliban on his own in France,” his lawyer, Alice Ouaknine, was quoted as saying. “It's the file of a man who fled his country with his wife and 3-month-old daughter.”

Four of the five placed under surveillance after arriving in France were close to a man suspected of links to the Taliban, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has said. That man, who has remained in the restricted zone, admitted belonging to the Taliban. He bore arms at a blockade in Kabul, the interior minister said this week, but also helped in the evacuation of the French Embassy, assisting the French army, citizens and journalists.

French intelligence agents were tracking the five via geopositioning and saw on Monday that one of them had left his restricted zone, Darmanin said on Tuesday.

He arrived in Paris last weekend and was immediately placed under watch, along with the four others, at the hotel east of Paris, and ordered not to leave.

The interior minister, who ordered the special surveillance for the five, insisted in an interview Tuesday with France Info that there were no slip-ups in checking evacuees.

The main suspect slipped through the cracks in the chaotic evacuation last weekend, but Darmanin said he was identified during a thorough identity check at the French air base in Abu Dhabi, used by France as a transit point for evacuees.

By Wednesday night, France had evacuated more than 2,000 Afghans and more than 100 French, authorities said.