Tunisia mum on Islam Channel CEO

2010-01-27 22:08

Johannesburg - South African police released the Tunisian owner of Britain's Islam Channel after holding him for two days on an international terror warrant issued by his homeland, saying on Wednesday that Tunisia had failed to respond to queries about the case.

Hawks spokesperson Musa Zondi also said on Wednesday that Britain did not consider Muhammed Ali Harrath a threat. Harrath returned to Britain on a Wednesday morning flight.

He had been arrested late on Sunday at OR Tambo International Airport upon arrival from London.

Zondi said Harrath could not be held beyond 48 hours without word from Tunisian police about whether the warrant issued through Interpol in 1992 was still valid, and Tunisia did not respond to South African queries.

Comment from Tunisian authorities was not immediately available.

After failing to get word from Tunisia, South Africa contacted police in Britain, where Harrath lives. Zondi quoted Scotland Yard as saying it "does not regard the suspect as a threat to security".

'Who are we to call him a threat?'

"We were awaiting information from the country that had put him on red alert in the first place, which was Tunisia," Zondi told The Associated Press, saying Harrath was released late Tuesday.

"They say it's about terrorism. We don't know."

Zondi said that with no confirmation from Tunisia and the report from Britain, "who are we to call him a threat?"

Advised UK cops on terrorism

Iqbal Jassat, head of the Media Review Network, told AP that Tunisia issued the warrant not because Harrath is a terrorist, but to harass him because he has opposed the government of the North African country.

Harrath is well-known in Britain because of his TV station. He reportedly has advised Scotland Yard on Islamic extremism.

Jassat, who had helped Harrath find lawyers in South Africa, said the Islam Channel CEO returned to Britain Wednesday.

Friend of SA

Jassat said Harrath had travelled several times previously to South Africa, where the Islam Channel has a bureau.

It was not clear whether Harrath's arrest was related to any stepped-up security monitoring as South Africa prepares to host the Fifa World Cup later this year.

Zondi said police had not been aware of the previous visits. He also said Harrath would no longer face arrest in South Africa.

Jassat said Harrath was planning to expand his TV station's South African bureau.

"He doesn't bear any grudge at all," Jassat said. "He regards himself as a friend of this country."