Spy chief to get Legion of Honour despite torture allegations

STR, AFP I French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on an official visit to Moroccan capital Rabat on 14 February

France promised to show “respect” to the head of Morocco’s domestic intelligence, Abdellatif Hammouchi, by giving him the country’s highest award – the Légion d’honneur – even as he faces lawsuits over alleged torture.


A year ago, French judicial 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.

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

In February, the two countries resumed cooperation after months of tough talks, after which French President François Hollande welcomed the Moroccan King Mohammed VI at the Elysée palace.

The move 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.

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

North African and European countries have been the biggest suppliers of Islamic State group 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.

'Lose its soul'

Hammouchi received a lower degree of the prestigious order in 2011. He has made no public comment on the lawsuits brought against him by Moroccan-French activists.

It was not clear what steps, if any, would be taken next in the lawsuits against him.

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

“This is an absolute outrage, a disgrace for France,” Patrick Baudouin, lawyer for one of the plaintiffs and honorary president of the International Federation for Human Rights, said about the forthcoming award.

“This is degrading for France to give in to the Moroccan authorities and allow military and security cooperation between the two countries to be restored. It is a way to lose its soul,” he said, later adding, "It is difficult then to appear as a country that boasts a respect for human rights."