French authorities deport Moroccan-born Rachid Ait El Haj after terrorism conviction

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced on Saturday that French authorities have deported Rachid Ait El Haj, a Moroccan-born man who was convicted of terrorism in 2007 and stripped of his French citizenship.

Darmanin posted on his official account on the social media platform "X" that a plane bound for Morocco was carrying Ait El Haj, following a decision by the French high court to deport him.

According to French media, Ait El Haj was sentenced to eight years in prison for "membership in a criminal gang with the aim of preparing a terrorist act" along with four others: three French-Moroccans and a French-Turk.

The same sources added that the five men were tried for their direct or indirect links to members of a jihadist group responsible for the Casablanca attacks on May 16, 2003, which killed 45 people, including three French nationals, and injured around 100 in attacks targeting a restaurant, a hotel, and a Jewish community center.

According to the same sources, Ait El Haj was released between 2009 and 2011, but he remained a concern for French authorities due to suspicions about his communications with Ahmed Ghlam, the planner of a foiled attack on a church in the city of Villejuif near Paris in 2015.

In 2015, French authorities decided to strip Ait El Haj and his companions of their French citizenship at the request of then-Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

The French high court considered that "the punishment of deprivation of citizenship did not take on a disproportionate character" given the "nature and seriousness of the terrorist acts committed," emphasizing that "in each case, the behavior of the person concerned in the post-offense period did not allow for a reconsideration of this assessment."

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