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25 May 2007 00:00
The unfolding story of Pakistani national Saud Memon, who was released from more than four years of detention, two of which he spent in Guantanamo shortly before his death this month, suggests that the South African government gave United States intelligence agencies carte blanche to pursue their ‘war on terror” on South African soil.
Memon testified at the Supreme Court in Islamabad that the FBI had arrested him in South Africa in March 2003.
Legal experts say the FBI cannot unilaterally arrest suspects in South Africa and that the South African government would have had to either deport or extradite him.
However, this week, home affairs officials could not find a record of his deportation.
The National Intelligence Agency declined to comment on the case.
US embassy spokesperson Mark Schlachter said that it had no information about the case and referred the Mail & Guardian to local law enforcement agencies and Pakistan’s diplomatic mission in South Africa. However, the Pakistani High Commission could not provide further information, saying the turnover at the commission meant that few officials would have been in South Africa at the time of the arrest.
Memon’s story follows hot on the heels of Pakistani citizen Khalid Rashid’s mysterious deportation from South Africa in late 2005. The government only revealed that Rashid was whisked out of the country from an air base when a court ordered that it explain the circumstances of his deportation. Rashid resurfaced in Pakistan earlier this year, after a year and a half as a ‘missing person” in the hands of intelligence agencies.
This is not the first time a foreign national has been arrested by the FBI on South African soil. In 1999 FBI agents arrested Khalfan Khamis Mohamed in Cape Town, in connection with the US embassy bombings in Tanzania the year before. He was subsequently deported to the US.
Two years later Mohamed successfully argued before the Constitutional Court that his removal from South Africa was illegal in terms of international law and the South African Constitution because his deportation was in fact a ‘disguised extradition”.
Memon was wanted in connection with the murder of Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl in May 2002 after Pearl’s remains were unearthed on a plot of land owned by Memon in Karachi, Pakistan.
One person has been sentenced to death and three others received life sentences for Pearl’s murder. Al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessed to beheading the journalist himself, according to partial transcripts from a Pentagon military tribunal.
Memon’s connection with Pearl’s death placed him high up on Pakistan’s ‘most wanted list”. Pakistani authorities also suspected that he was a financier for al-Qaeda. Memon’s brother confirmed that Memon supported the al-Akhtar and al-Rashid trusts, both of which have al-Qaeda ties.
The Asia Times reported in September last year that Memon was on a list of protected suspects agreed upon by the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Taliban in a truce to end hostilities between the two sides.
Pakistani newspapers reported that Memon appeared before the Supreme Court in Islamabad in May this year. The 44-year-old was apparently so weak that he was brought in on a stretcher and his brother had to speak for him. He was reportedly severely emaciated.
Three supreme court judges in Islamabad heard Memon’s case as part of a wider effort to investigate petitions about missing persons.
Memon told the court that the FBI arrested him in South Africa on March 7 2003 and that he was later detained at Guantanamo Bay. His sister reportedly told newspapers that the textile businessman was in South Africa for work purposes, while his brother said that he fled out of fear of arrest after Pearl’s body was discovered on his land.
Last year American agencies returned Memon to Pakistan. When his family filed a case in the Pakistani Supreme Court against his detention, intelligence agencies reportedly refused to acknowledge that he was being detained.
In April this year, Memon was reportedly dropped off at his family home in a poor physical state, initially unconscious and later suffering memory loss.
The Supreme Court recommended that Memon go to a local hospital. He died of tuberculosis and meningitis after 20 days in hospital, his brother told newspapers.
Newspapers reported that crowds formed on the news of his death, chanting ‘Long live al-Qaeda” and ‘The remedy for [President General Pervez] Musharraf is al-jihad.”
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