French court convicts Afghan just days after Kabul evacuation

PARIS: A French court has handed a 10-month suspended jail sentence to an Afghan man for violating a surveillance order days after France evacuated him from Taliban-controlled Kabul, intensifying a domestic political row over suspected links between at least one evacuee and the Taliban.

The man, Ahmat M., is one of five people who were placed under surveillance after their arrival in France as part of an investigation into possible links with the Taliban.

Another man, not Ahmat M, is suspected of working for the Taliban despite helping France evacuate nationals and Afghans in danger. He and four others deemed close to him, including Ahmat M., were placed under surveillance earlier this week.

The surveillance order included strict limits on movements and Ahmat M., who arrived at the weekend, was convicted by a court late on Wednesday for straying outside of this zone.

Ahmat M., who says he was a prosecutor in Afghanistan before resuming his law studies, was ordered not to leave the Paris suburb of Noisy-le-Grand, where he was living with his wife, baby daughter and several other family members.

He told the court he wanted to buy medicine because he was suffering from headaches and vomiting since arriving in France. In sometimes confused remarks, he said he followed a man living in the same hotel who offered to buy him these medicines, without realising that he was going to central Paris.

The other man told investigators that Ahmat M. had asked him to accompany him to Paris to buy SIM cards. Ahmat M. also insisted he was unaware of the restrictions he had to follow.

"This is not the case of a Taliban in France, it is the case of a man who fled his country with his wife and his three-month-old daughter," and who was arrested for "going to the supermarket," said his lawyer Alice Ouaknine.

Political bickering

The possibility that there could be Taliban members among the hundreds of Afghans evacuated by France over the last fortnight has ignited a controversy in France, with migration set to be a prime battleground in 2022 presidential elections.

The right has accused the government of President Emmanuel Macron of failing to carry out proper security checks, while the left has accused him of letting down ordinary Afghans by only allowing limited numbers into France.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Macron was not putting the security of the French first while prominent right-wing presidential challenger Xavier Bertrand asked why the five Afghans were not being expelled immediately.

Prime Minister Jean Castex told RTL radio that the five individuals were "perfectly under control" and the security agencies had "done their work well". There was no question of urgently expelling them, he added.

Castex also said France's evacuation mission in Kabul would end on Friday. - AFP