Moroccan Politician Mehdi Ben Barka Disappears in Paris Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Mehdi Ben Barka was a Moroccan politician opposed to the dictatorial rule of Morocco’s King Hassan II. He was a key leader in the movement for bettering the developing world and the major organizer of a conference of global revolutionary leaders and supporters. In 1965, he disappeared while in Paris. He was never again seen and was presumed to have been murdered. The French police, the French and Moroccan secret services, the CIA, and Mossad, the Israeli secret service, have all been implicated in the scandal.

Summary of Event

Mehdi Ben Barka, the son of a civil servant, was born in Rabat, Morocco, in 1920. He was an intelligent and studious individual who became involved in politics by the age of fourteen as a member of a group seeking Moroccan independence from France. In 1950, he received a degree in mathematics and served as tutor to Hassan II when Hassan was a child. Ben Barka was a member of the Istiqlal (freedom) Party during the period of French rule in Morocco and was one of the most dedicated of the Moroccans working to free the country from France. He hoped for freedom and openness in the newly independent country. [kw]Ben Barka Disappears in Paris, Moroccan Politician Mehdi (Oct. 29, 1965) Ben Barka, Mehdi Kidnapping;of Mehdi Ben Barka[Ben Barka] Morocco Ben Barka, Mehdi Kidnapping;of Mehdi Ben Barka[Ben Barka] Morocco [g]Africa;Oct. 29, 1965: Moroccan Politician Mehdi Ben Barka Disappears in Paris[01230] [g]Middle East;Oct. 29, 1965: Moroccan Politician Mehdi Ben Barka Disappears in Paris[01230] [g]Europe;Oct. 29, 1965: Moroccan Politician Mehdi Ben Barka Disappears in Paris[01230] [g]Morocco;Oct. 29, 1965: Moroccan Politician Mehdi Ben Barka Disappears in Paris[01230] [g]France;Oct. 29, 1965: Moroccan Politician Mehdi Ben Barka Disappears in Paris[01230] [c]Politics;Oct. 29, 1965: Moroccan Politician Mehdi Ben Barka Disappears in Paris[01230] [c]Murder and suicide;Oct. 29, 1965: Moroccan Politician Mehdi Ben Barka Disappears in Paris[01230] [c]International relations;Oct. 29, 1965: Moroccan Politician Mehdi Ben Barka Disappears in Paris[01230] [c]Government;Oct. 29, 1965: Moroccan Politician Mehdi Ben Barka Disappears in Paris[01230] Hassan II Oufkir, Mohammad

Mehdi Ben Barka in 1959.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Morocco regained its independence in 1956. Ben Barka soon realized that King Mohammad V was intent on maintaining an absolute monarchy as the form of government in Morocco; Ben Barka responded by moving further to the left in politics. When Hassan II came to power as king in 1961, Ben Barka and the king drifted apart and were no longer friends or political allies.

Ben Barka had founded the National Union of Popular Forces in 1959 and led a strong opposition to the dictatorial Hassan. In 1962, he was accused of fomenting plots against Hassan and was exiled. The following year when Morocco Morocco;Sand Wars invaded Algeria;Sand Wars Algeria in what was known as the Sand Wars, Ben Barka supported Algeria and allegedly was involved in more plots against Hassan. Consequently, he was sentenced to death in absentia.

From the time of his exile in 1962, Ben Barka traveled from one country to another attempting to unite the various revolutionary movements of those countries. He met with revolutionary leaders Che Guevara, Amilcar Cabral, and Malcolm X. It was his goal to bring the revolutionary groups together at the Tricontinental Conference, scheduled for Cuba Havana, Cuba, in January of 1966. His objectives for the conference included support for all revolutionary movements; help for Cuba, which was under an embargo by the United States; and the elimination of military bases and apartheid in South Africa. On October 29, 1965, Ben Barka disappeared while in Paris. The case of his disappearance has never been concluded but it has instigated an enormous amount of investigation and speculation.

Ben Barka was in Paris to meet with a film director, identified by many as Georges Franju, a scriptwriter and journalist. The purpose of the meeting was to arrange for the making of a film, documenting national liberation movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The film was to be shown at the Tricontinental Conference. The meeting was to take place at the Brasserie Lipp on the Boulevard Saint Germain. Investigations and interviews have revealed that the meeting was an apparent trap. As Ben Barka walked toward the restaurant, he was approached by two French police officers who identified themselves and asked him to get into their car. Ben Barka, accustomed to being followed by the police, apparently entered the car without hesitation. The car then drove to a villa in Fontenay-le-Vicomte that was owned by French gangster Georges Bouchseiche, who had connections with French intelligence, the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE). Ben Barka was never seen again, either alive or dead. He had simply disappeared.

Also in 1965, the family of Ben Barka filed a lawsuit in France for his kidnapping. In 1967, two French police officers were brought to trial, convicted of his kidnapping, and sent to prison. Georges Fignon, a known criminal, testified at the trial that he had seen General Mohammad Oufkir, Hassan’s adviser and a former interior minister, kill Ben Barka by stabbing him. Fignon was later found dead. Papon, Maurice Maurice Papon, the prefect of police at the time, was forced to resign.

In 1975, Ben Barka’s family filed another lawsuit, this time for his murder. In 1982, Prime Minister Mauroy, Pierre Pierre Mauroy directed the SDECE to turn over its Ben Barka files to the investigating judge, but the judge was given access to only one-third of the files. In 2001, more files were released and still more in 2004, but Ben Barka’s son, Bachir, insisted that critical files have yet to be made public.

Allegations about who was involved in the disappearance of Ben Barka and how he likely died reached far beyond the two French police officers and Oufkir. Some claim that Amhed Dlimi, deputy for intelligence operations for Oufkir, was in Paris when Ben Barka disappeared and that he had immediately notified Oufkir of Ben Barka’s abduction. At this time, Oufkir made a sudden trip to visit his children in school in Switzerland.

Furthermore, unidentified sources reported the presence of two other Moroccan officials at the villa where Ben Barka was last seen. These individuals, along with Oufkir, allegedly argued with Ben Barka, reminded him that he had been sentenced to death in Morocco, and told him that they were serving King Hassan before Oufkir shot him. Dlimi eventually was brought to trial in France and acquitted. Oufkir and a Moroccan intelligence agent were tried in absentia and convicted of illegal arrest and confinement. They received life sentences in absentia. Oufkir died in his failed coup against King Hassan in 1975. He either committed suicide or was shot by Hassan. Mystery surrounds his death as it does the death of Ben Barka.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. Agency (CIA), the SDECE, and Mossad, the Israel;secret service Israeli secret service, have all been implicated in Ben Barka’s disappearance. In 1976, the U.S. government acknowledged that the CIA had approximately eighteen hundred documents relating to Ben Barka but refused to release them.

Ben Barka’s body has never been found. A number of stories, some quite sordid, exist about what was done with his remains. In an article dated December 29, 1975, Time Time magazine magazine reported that the body was first buried at Bouchseiche’s villa, then later moved to the Île de la Grande Jatte by two Moroccan agents who returned to France expressly for the purpose of moving the body. A former member of the Moroccan secret service claimed that the body was taken to Morocco and destroyed in a vat of acid. A Moroccan French dissident recounts that while he was imprisoned in Morocco he heard a different account from a former agent. This account claims that Ben Barka’s body was sealed in cement and buried outside Paris. The head was cut off, taken to King Hassan so that he could be sure Ben Barka was dead, and then buried on the prison grounds where the dissident was detained.

Impact

The disappearance of Ben Barka strongly impacted revolutionary movements throughout the world. Although the Tricontinental Conference took place in January of 1966, it did so without its key organizer. Ben Barka’s dream of unity of all revolutionary movements ended with his disappearance. Forever unknown is the effect of his influence on the rule of King Hassan. Ben Barka remains one of the important heroes for global movements for freedom and human rights. Ben Barka’s mysterious, unsolved disappearance also led to increased attention to the intelligence activities of governments throughout the world. His fate has elicited questions of the morality and ethics of such intelligence activities. Morocco Ben Barka, Mehdi Kidnapping;of Mehdi Ben Barka[Ben Barka]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ashford, Douglas. Political Change in Morocco. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961. Good for background on ideas and political beliefs of Mehdi Ben Barka.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bourequat, Ali-Auguste. In the Moroccan King’s Secret Garden. Kearney, Nebr.: Morris, 1998. French Moroccan dissident Bourequat relates his version of the murder of Mehdi Ben Barka. Implicates Oufkir, King Hassan II, and at least one other person.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Howe, Marvine. Morocco: The Islamist Awakening and Other Challenges. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Recounts interactions between Mehdi Ben Barka and King Hassan II in the realm of Moroccan politics. The author, who knew Hassan, gives an insightful account of his reign.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “The Murder of Mehdi Ben Barka.” Time, December, 29, 1975. An account of the apparent murder of Ben Barka, including both documented facts and facts obtained from unidentified sources who were alleged eyewitnesses.

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