Were Paris Airport Workers Victims of Racial Profling?

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The decision to revoke the security access badges of 72 workers at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport was presented as part of an effort to identify and eliminate potential terror risks at the heart of one of Europe ' s largest transport hubs. But skeptical voices question whether politics influenced the decision. Deputy prefect in charge of security, Jacques Lebrot, told the media he had acted on the basis of a year-long intelligence inquiry that had identified the workers as regulars of fundamentalist mosques, acquaintances of suspected radicals, or travelers to such Islamist hot spots as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. One employee had attended a terror training camp in Yemen, according to the intelligence report, while a second worker maintained ties to the leader of an Algerian jihadist group and a third had contact with shoe-bomber Richard Reid.

Yet, a senior counter-terrorism official ridicules the notion that the men pose a real threat. "Any time we have evidence of anything like this, suspects are brought in, interrogated, and held if justified during investigations," he says. Abdelhazak Rabehi, a 30 year-old baggage handler whose job depended on the badge of which he was stripped, aired similar logic. "If I'd been a threat to the airport, I'd be a threat to society: they'd have put me in handcuffs instead of taking away my job."

Intelligence, police, and Interior Ministry officials asked to comment on the case — and how such serious allegations could be made without the suspects having the chance to examine and respond to them — deferred to Lebrot. Lebrot's office declined to comment, citing pending litigation by Rabehi and seven colleagues who challenged the revocations in court. Pending the court ruling expected next week, Rabehi and another plaintiff had their badges returned to them — proving, Rabehi said, "the authorities acknowledge the information against us was wrong. How can you not doubt the other cases, too?"

His lawyer, Daniel Saadat, points to the publicity generated by a best-selling book depicting the airport as crawling with radical Muslim employees who meet in clandestine prayer rooms in its terminals. Such scare-mongering, Saadat says, may have pressured security officials to take demonstrative action against questionable, but well publicized threats. "The way this has been handled is inverse of how investigations normally go," the counter-terror official says. "It makes you wonder what the real deal is."