Mehdi Ben Barka

Mehdi Ben Barka (Arabic: المهدي بن بركة; 1920 – disappeared 29 October 1965) was a Moroccan politician, head of the left-wing National Union of Popular Forces (UNPF) and secretary of the Tricontinental Conference. An opponent of French Imperialism and King Hassan II, he "disappeared" in Paris in 1965. Many theories attempting to explain what happened to him were put forward over the years; but it was not until 2018 that details of his disappearance were established by Israeli journalist and author Ronen Bergman in his book Rise And Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations. Based on research and interviews with Israeli intelligence operatives involved in planning the kidnapping of Barka, Bergman concluded that he was murdered by Moroccan agents and French police, who ended up disposing of his body.[1]

Mehdi Ben Barka
Mehdi Ben Barka
Native name
المَهْدِي بِن بَرْكَة
BornJanuary 1920 (1920)
DisappearedOctober 29, 1965 (aged 45)
Paris, France
EducationLycée Lyautey
Occupationpolitician, writer
Political partyIstiqlal Party 1944 - 1959
National Union of Popular Forces 1959 -


Youth and the fight for Moroccan independence

Mehdi Ben Barka was born into a middle class family in Rabat; his father Ahmed Ben M'hammed Ben Barka was at the beginning of his career, serving as personal secretary of the Pasha of Tangier, before becoming a businessman in Rabat, and his mother Lalla Fatouma Bouanane, was a stay-at-home mom.[2] He was one of the very few Moroccan children not from the bourgeoisie to have access to a good education, and received his baccalauréat diploma from Lycée Lyautey with high honors at a time when Morocco only produced about 20 or so graduates of baccalauréat secondary school programs per year. In response to the Berber Dahir of May 16, 1930, which placed Amazigh populations under the jurisdiction of the French authorities, 14-year-old Mehdi Ben Barka joined the Comité d'action marocaine, the first political movement born under the protectorate.

As a 17 year old, he became one of the youngest members of Allal al-Fassi's National Party for the Realization of Reforms (الحركة الوطنية لتحقيق الإصلاحات), which would become the Istiqlal Party a few years later. In 1940, he went to Algiers to continue his studies in mathematics. The Algerian People's Party influenced him to broaden the scale of his nationalism to incorporate all of North Africa. He could not disassociate the fate of Morocco from the fate of the entire Maghreb.[3]

In 1950 became the first Moroccan Muslim to get a degree in mathematics at an official French school.

Primary opponent of Hassan II

Returning to Morocco in 1942, he participated in the creation of the Istiqlal Party, which would play a major role in Morocco's independence. His name on the Proclamation of Independence of January 11, 1944 got him arrested along with other party leaders, and he spent more than a year in prison. After his liberation, as the first Moroccan Muslim graduate in mathematics of an official French school, he became a professor at the Royal Academy (Arabic: المدرسة المولوية, French: Collège Royal), where the future king of Morocco Hassan II was one of his students.[4]

He also remained an activist in the nationalist movement, to the extent that the French General Alphonse Juin described him as the "enemy #1 of France in Morocco.” Mehdi Ben Barka was put on house arrest February 1951. In 1955, he participated in the negotiations that led to the return of Muhammad V, who French authorities had ousted and exiled, and to the end of the French protectorate.[5]

He left the Istiqlal Party in 1959 after clashes with conservative opponents to found the left-wing National Union of Popular Forces (UNFP).

In 1962 he was accused of plotting against King Hassan II. He was exiled from Morocco in 1963, after calling upon Moroccan soldiers to refuse to fight Algeria in the 1963 Sand War.[6]

Exile and global political significance

When he was exiled in 1963, Ben Barka became a "traveling salesman of the revolution" according to the historian Jean Lacouture. He left initially for Algiers, where he met Che Guevara, Amílcar Cabral and Malcolm X. From there, he went to Cairo, Rome, Geneva and Havana, trying to unite the revolutionary movements of the Third World for the Tricontinental Conference meeting that was to be held in January 1966 in Havana. In a press conference, he claimed "the two currents of the world revolution will be represented there: the current [that] emerged with the October Revolution and that of the national liberation revolution".

As the leader of the Tricontinental Conference, Ben Barka was a major figure in the Third World movement and supported revolutionary anti-colonial action in various states; this provoked the anger of the United States and France. Just before his disappearance, he was preparing the first meeting of the Tricontinental, scheduled to take place in Havana. The OSPAAAL (Spanish for "Organization for Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia and Latin America") was founded on that occasion.

Chairing the preparatory commission, he defined the objectives; assistance with the movements of liberation, support for Cuba during its subjection to the United States embargo, the liquidation of foreign military bases and apartheid in South Africa. For the historian René Galissot, "The underlying reason for the removal and assassination of Ben Barka is to be found in this revolutionary impetus of Tricontinentale."


On 29 October 1965, Mehdi Ben Barka was abducted ("disappeared") in Paris by French policemen and never seen again. On 29 December 1975, Time magazine published an article titled "The Murder of Mehdi Ben Barka",[7] stating that three Moroccan agents were responsible for the death of Ben Barka, one of them former Interior Minister Mohamed Oufkir. Speculation[8] persists as to CIA involvement. French intelligence agents and the Israeli Mossad were also involved, according to the article. According to Tad Szulc, Israeli involvement was in the wake of the successful Moroccan-Israeli collaboration in the 1961–64 Operation Yachin; he claims that Meir Amit located Ben Barka, whereupon Mossad agents persuaded him to come to Paris where he was to be arrested by the French police.[9]

Theories on the disappearance of Ben Barka

French trial

In the 1960s Ben Barka's disappearance was enough of a scandale public that President De Gaulle formally declared his government had not been responsible. After trial in 1967, two French officers were sent to prison for their role in the kidnapping. However, the judge ruled that the main guilty party was Moroccan Interior Minister Mohamed Oufkir.[10] Georges Figon, a witness with a criminal background who had testified earlier that Oufkir stabbed Ben Barka to death, was later found dead, officially a suicide.

Prefect of Police Maurice Papon (1910–2007), later convicted of crimes against humanity for his role under the Vichy regime, was forced to resign following Ben Barka's kidnapping.

Ahmed Boukhari

A former member of the Moroccan secret service, Ahmed Boukhari claimed in 2001 that Ben Barka had died during interrogation in a villa south of Paris. He said Ben Barka's body was then taken back to Morocco and destroyed in a vat of acid. Furthermore, he declared that this vat of acid, whose plans were reproduced by the newspapers, had been constructed under instructions from the CIA agent "Colonel Martin", who had learnt this technique to make corpses disappear during his appointment in the Shah's Iran in the 1950s.

Ali Bourequat

Moroccan-French dissident and former Tazmamart prisoner of conscience Ali Bourequat claims in his book In the Moroccan King's Secret Garden to have met a former Moroccan secret agent in a prison near Rabat in 1973–74. The man, Dubail, recounted how he and some colleagues, led by Colonel Oufkir and Ahmed Dlimi, had murdered Ben Barka in Paris.

The body was then encapsulated in cement and buried outside Paris, but his head was brought by Oufkir to Morocco in a suitcase. Thereafter, it was buried in the same prison grounds where Dubail and Bourequat were held.

CIA documents

Owing to requests made through the Freedom of Information Act, the United States government acknowledged in 1976 that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) possessed 1,800 documents involving Ben Barka; however, the documents were not released.

French documents

Some secret French documents on the affair were made public in 2001, causing political uproar. Defence minister Michèle Alliot-Marie had agreed in 2004 to follow the recommendations of a national defence committee and released the 73 additional classified documents on the case. However, the son of Mehdi Ben Barka was outraged at what he called a "pseudo-release of files", insisting that information had been withheld which could have implicated the French secret services (SDECE), and possibly the CIA and the Mossad, as well as the ultimate responsibility of King Hassan II of Morocco–who conveniently was able to put the blame on Oufkir after his failed coup in 1972.[11]

Driss Basri

Driss Basri, Interior Minister of Hassan II and his right-hand man from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, was heard by the judge Patrick Ramaël in May 2006, as a witness, concerning Ben Barka's kidnapping. Basri declared to the magistrate that he had not been linked to the Ben Barka affair. He added that "it is possible that the King knew. It is legitimate to think that de Gaulle possessed some information..."[12]

Ronen Bergman

Ronen Bergman, author and "senior correspondent for military and intelligence affairs" for Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, in his book "Rise And Kill First" (2018) writes that Israel's Mossad intelligence service had established a reciprocal intelligence-sharing relationship with the government of Morocco's King Hassan II. In September, 1965 the King had allowed the Mossad to install electronic eavesdropping devices in "all the meeting rooms and private suites of the leaders of the Arab states and their military commanders during an Arab summit in Casablanca", giving Israel "an unprecedented glimpse" of the military and intelligence secrets of its greatest enemies, and of the mindsets of those countries' leaders. Information transferred to Israel from the Casablanca summit about the shaky state of the Arab armies was "one of the foundations for the confidence felt by IDF chiefs" when they recommended their government to wage war two years later (the 1967 Six-Day War).[13] But just one day after the Mossad had received the transcripts from this Arab summit, a top Moroccan intelligence service chief, Ahmed Dlimi requested - on behalf of King Hassan II - that the Israelis immediately repay the favor by assassinating Ben Barka. According to Bergman's sources, the Mossad did not actually carry out the killing but played a key role in locating Barka and giving that information to Moroccan authorities so they could place him under surveillance; the Mossad created the plan for the kidnapping - which was to be carried out by the Moroccans themselves. "The Mossad supplied the Moroccans with safe houses in Paris, vehicles, fake passports, and two different kinds of poison with which to kill [Barka], as well as shovels and 'something to disguise the traces'". After the Moroccans, "with the help of corrupt French police officers" tortured and murdered Barka in a Mossad safe house, a team of Mossad operatives took care of the disposal of the body, burying it in the Saint-Germain forest outside Paris, carefully scattering a chemical powder over the grave which would dissolve the body. "[A]ccording to some of the Israelis involved" what was left of Barka's body was then moved again and buried either under the road leading to or under the headquarters of the Louis Vuitton Foundation.[14]


Victoria Brittain, writing in The Guardian, called Ben Barka a "revolutionary theoretician as significant as Frantz Fanon and Che Guevara", whose "influence reverberated far beyond their own continent".[15] His writings have been collected and translated in French by his son Bachir Ben Barka and published in 1999 under the title Écrits politiques (1957–1965).[16]

See also



  1. France accused 44 years on over Moroccan's vanishing by Lizzy Davies, The Guardian, October 29, 2009
  2. Abderrahim Ouardighi (1982). "L'itinéraire d'un nationaliste, Mehdi Ben Barka, 1920-1965 : une biographie". Editions Moncho. p. 17. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  3. "Figures de la révolution africaine". La Découverte. 2014. pp. 237–252. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  4. "قضية المهدي بن بركة تعود للواجهة بقوة في المغرب بعد مرور نصف قرن على اختطافه". CNN Arabic (in Arabic). 2015-10-30. Retrieved 2019-07-11.
  5. "Figures de la révolution africaine". La Découverte. 2014. pp. 237–252. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  6. Karen Farsoun and Jim Paul, "War in the Sahara: 1963," MERIP Reports, No. 45 (March 1976).
  7. "The Murder of Mehdi Ben Barka". Time. December 29, 1975.
  8. "Officer reveals grim details of Ben Barka's murder".
  9. Szulc 1991, p. 275: "By mid-1963, Operation Yakhin had become virtually routine. Colonel Oufkir, the new Interior Minister in Morocco, and Meir Amit, the new chief of the Mossad, concluded a secret pact that year providing for the training of Moroccan security services by the Israelis and limited covert military assistance in exchange for a flow of intelligence on Arab affairs and continued free departures of Jews. In 1965, the Mossad rendered Oufkir the shocking and sinister service of tracking down Mehdi Ben-Barka, the leader of the leftist opposition in Morocco, whom both the king and his Interior Minister wished dead. Amit agreed to locate Ben-Barka, and Mossad agents persuaded him to come to Paris from Geneva under false pretenses. Near a restaurant, French plainclothesmen arrested Ben-Barka and handed him over to Oufkir’s agents. They then took him to the countryside, killed him and buried him in a garden. Investigations by the French government uncovered the truth, and the Ben-Barka affair became a political scandal in France, Morocco and Israel.”
  10. Clea Caulcutt (28 October 2010). "Spies, Nazis, gangsters and cops - the mysterious disappearance of Mehdi Ben Barka". RFI English.
  11. Affaire Ben Barka : Driss Basri chez le juge, Le Figaro, 23 May 2006 (in French)
  12. French: «Je n'ai été mêlé ni de près, ni de loin, ni à l'époque, ni à aucun moment, à l'affaire qui s'est déroulée sur le sol français» explique-t-il au Figaro. «Seul un petit groupe, qui a gardé un silence total, savait. Il est possible que le roi savait. Il est légitime de penser que de Gaulle était en possession d'informations... Le problème est qu'aujourd'hui les protagonistes sont tous morts» in Affaire Ben Barka : Driss Basri chez le juge, Le Figaro, 23 May 2006 (in French)
  13. "The ghosts of Saint-Germain forest". Ynetnews. 2015-03-23. Retrieved 2019-03-31.
  14. Bergman, Ronen (2018). Rise And Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations. Random House. pp. 86–94. ISBN 978-1-4000-6971-2.
  15. Africa: A Continent Drenched in the Blood of Revolutionary Heroes by Victoria Brittain, The Guardian, January 17, 2011
  16. Mehdi Ben Barka, Écrits politiques (1957–1965), Syllepse, 1999, ISBN 2907993933
  17. "Web Page Under Construction".


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