A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

48 Years Ago Today, Mehdi Ben Barka Disappeared . . .

Mehdi Ben Barka
On October 29, 1965, the exiled Moroccan leftist opposition figure Mehdi Ben Barka headed to the famous Brasserie Lipp on Paris' Boulevard St. Germain for a supposed meeting he expected to be about making a film for an upcoming conference he was organizing in Havana on Third World liberation movements. Unidentified men grabbed him, shoved him into a car, and drove away. He has not been seen since.

In theory, the French consider the case still open (though no one expects a now 93-year-old Ben Barka to turn up suddenly); it's clear that Moroccan agents were involved, but there are a lingering questions about the role of French intelligence, since he was snatched in a very public place in Paris. (And, of course, some versions bring both the CIA and Mossad into the plot. Though the Middle East loves a good conspiracy theory, it's also true that the French, American and Israeli services all had close links with the Moroccan in those days.)

In 2012 I wrote a bit about the case, after a French judge tried to have the British arrest the head of the Moroccan Olympic committee at the London Olympics.
Plaque at Brasserie Lipp
Two French officers were jailed in 1967, but the French court blamed the plot on then-Moroccan Interior Minister Mohammed Oufkir, who was killed in 1972 during an attempt to overthrow the King; various alleged accounts of what happened agree Ben Barka was either killed or died under interrogation, but the accounts don't match (the body was dissolved in acid, or encased in concrete, depending on the version). Wikipedia offers a summary of various accounts and theories.

In two years, it will have been half a century. But this is not the sort of operation likely to be declassified even at this remove.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ben Barka assassination was an operation by French counter-intelligence conducted without a real green light at the political level. A department of the French DST thought it would advance its influence and that they would be congratulated for giving Ben Barka to the Moroccans.

De Gaulle was furious and subsenquently cracked down on the French intelligence agencies, which had grew uncontrollable and chaotic, especially as a consequence of the Algerian quagmire.