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What Happened to Ben Barka ?

Ben Barka

This October 29 at 12:15 p.m., Ben Barka is in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. At the height of the Brasserie Lipp, two men take him into an official 403 that starts off with a bang. We will never see him again. What happened then to Ben Barka ?

He was accompanied by his friend Azemmouri, a young Moroccan student, who was able to escape this mousetrap and warn his friends. The meeting was to focus on the making of a film on decolonization and bring together filmmaker Franju, Georges Figon, a man in the middle who had just come out of prison, and journalist Bernier. Why and how did this kidnapping take place in the middle of the day in such a busy neighborhood?

At the time of his kidnapping, Mehdi Ben Barka was the leader of the Moroccan opposition and headed the National Union of Popular Forces (UNFP), which he founded in 1950. Above all, he was the coordinator, imposed by Che Guevara, revolutionary movements of the Third World and, in particular, he was responsible for organizing in 1966 in Havana a tricontinental conference. He is therefore a politician of international stature.

After having been the hero of his country's independence, he was exiled, then sentenced to death in absentia by the Moroccan authorities in 1963 for having taken a stand in favor of Algeria, a new democracy which was to become the spearhead of 'a great unified Maghreb, against Moroccan royalty. Very quickly, the case, which takes place in the middle of the French presidential campaign, caused a scandal in the press, in particular in the Express, where Figon tells the story of the kidnapping and highlights the complicity of the Moroccan authorities and the French secret services. Two successive instructions in France will remove some elements of the mystery.

Facts and lawsuits

The two men who invite Ben Barka to board the car are two policemen from the social brigade, Louis Souchon and Roger Voitot. In the car, Antoine Lopez, an agent of the French counter-espionage services, and Julien Le Ny, a notorious mobster, are waiting for them. Ben Barka is taken to the villa of a figure in the middle, Georges Boucheseiche, in Fontenay-le-Vicomte in the Paris region. On October 30, General Mohammed Oufkir, Moroccan Minister of the Interior, and Commander Ahmed Dlimi, head of Moroccan security, meet at Boucheseiche's house. There, Ben Barka is severely beaten and tortured to death. The police then transport his body to Lopez's basement, to implicate him. We will never see Ben Barka again.

The first trial opens on September 5, 1966. Thirteen people are indicted including Oufkir, Dlimi, Marcel Leroy-Finville, one of the head of the SDECE (the French secret services). Six defendants are in the box. This is when two twists and turns take place: we find Figon dead - we will quickly conclude that he has committed suicide - and Dlimi becomes a prisoner. A new turn of events intervenes: Hassan II, the king of Morocco, refuses that his Minister of the Interior appears in front of the French justice. A new trial begins on April 17, 1967. The verdict of June 5, 1967 acquits Dlimi and his French acolytes, except Lopez (sentenced to 8 years in prison) and Souchon (to 6 years), and sentences Oufkir in absentia to life imprisonment. This unprecedented act of justice will freeze Franco-Moroccan relations for two years.

A court case still open

The publication, in 2002, of the revelations of a former member of the Moroccan secret service at the time, Ahmed Boukhari, provides two new elements: the tortured body of Ben Barka was reportedly brought back to Morocco and dissolved in a vat of acid, common practice to remove opponents of the regime, and Moroccan agents, whose names he provides, were reportedly in the villa at the time of the tragedy. A double legal procedure begins, in France and Morocco. Boukhari also said that CIA agents were working in the Moroccan police office which was responsible for the "disappearance" of Ben Barka. The CIA has admitted to having 1,846 files pertaining to the case, but defense secrecy remains.

During the years of lead, the CIA which intervened in the countries where the revolutionaries were organized, would she have participated in the elimination of one of the most brilliant leaders of the Third World?

An exemplary itinerary

Mehdi Ben Barka was born in 1920 in Sidi Fettah, a district of the medina of Rabat. The third child of a large and modest family, he was quickly noticed for his intelligence and his eagerness to learn, and, benefiting from the support of a few teachers, was admitted to French school, then to high school, reserved for the sons of notables. From the age of fourteen, he became a nationalist, taking the Turkish leader Atatürk as his model.

In 1938, he brilliantly passed his baccalaureate in mathematical sciences at the lycée in Rabat. Then he enrolled at the University of Algiers, where he obtained his license in maths-physics in 1942. As a teacher, he taught in several high schools while continuing his activity as a militant patriot. In 1943, he joined the founding of the Independence Party and began his political rise.