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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Terrorists convicted in France planned Eiffel tower blast and chemical attacks - one plotter ex inmate of Gitmo

Terrorists convicted in France planned Eiffel tower blast and chemical attacks - one plotter ex inmate of Gitmo

June 14, 2006

"...Another brother, Mourad Benchellali, was held for months in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before being extradited to France in 2004..."

Islamist militants convicted for France terror plot


By Thierry Leveque
Wednesday, June 14, 2006; 12:46 PM

PARIS (Reuters) - A French court convicted 25 Islamist militants on Wednesday of planning terror attacks in Paris, possibly using chemical weapons, and of recruiting fighters to send to Chechnya and Afghanistan.

One witness said the targets had included the Eiffel Tower, as well as police stations and a city center shopping mall.

The four ringleaders, who are either Algerian nationals or of Algerian descent, received jail terms of between nine and 10 years. The other 21 defendants were jailed for up to eight years, including some suspended sentences.

The court found the defendants guilty of "criminal association in relation with a terrorist enterprise," a broad charge which covers numerous crimes.

The plot came to light in late 2002 when police raided a flat near Paris and found electronic parts used in detonators and chemicals that can be used in explosives.

They also found a chemical protection suit, a large sum of cash and false identity papers.

The Interior Ministry said at the time that there was no doubt "one or several terrorist attacks were being planned in the relatively short-term."

Prosecutors said some of the defendants were one-time members of the outlawed Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) and had ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

Defense lawyers said the prosecution was based on the testimony of just one turncoat, Maamar Ouazane, who was also standing on trial and received a two year prison term.

"This was a truly political verdict because the magistrates were answering to the demands of the United States, Russia and Algeria," said Isabelle Coutant, the lawyer for Merouane Benhamed, who prosecutors described as the group leader.

Benhamed was handed a 10-year prison term, as was Menad Benchellali, who was accused of participating in paramilitary training camps in Georgia.

Benchellali's father, an imam based in the suburbs of Lyons, his mother and brother were also defendants and were all found guilty of helping finance Menad.

Another brother, Mourad Benchellali, was held for months in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before being extradited to France in 2004.

The two other ring leaders in Wednesday's case, Nourredine Merabet and Said Arif, who was extradited from Syria for the trial, were sentenced to nine years in jail.



France jails 25 for attack plot
A rebel training camp in Chechnya Prosecutors said some of the men trained with rebels in Chechnya
A French court has jailed 25 alleged Islamist militants for planning attacks in France in support of Chechen rebels.

The main defendants received jail terms of eight to 10 years, while others were jailed for six months or more. Two defendants were acquitted.

Prosecutors said the group's intended targets may have included the Eiffel Tower, the Halles shopping centre, police stations and Israeli interests.

The group was accused of "jihad" links with Chechen militants fighting Russia.

The ringleaders of the group, most of whom came from Algeria, allegedly received training in Afghanistan or in the war-torn southern Russian republic of Chechnya.

Prosecutors said the group plotted in 2001-2002 to attack targets in the French capital.

These convictions profit the United States, Algeria and Russia
Isabelle Coutant
Defence lawyer

When it was raided in December 2002, the court heard, the group was "close to action".

Police found gas canisters, fuses and a chemical protection suit in the northern Paris suburbs of La Corneuve and Romainville.

In a second wave of arrests about a year later in Venissieux, in south-east France, chemical products including ricin were discovered.

The court convicted 24 defendants of the broad charge of criminal association in relation with a terrorist enterprise. The other was convicted of using false papers.

Merouane Benhamed, 33, described as the group's chief, and Menad Benchellali, 32, the group's alleged chemicals expert, were jailed for 10 years.

Benchellali's father, an imam from Lyon, received an 18-month suspended prison term.

Said Arif, 40, and Nourredine Merabet, described as the group's financier, were sentenced to nine years.

Local recruits

Benhamed's lawyer Isabelle Coutant claimed the verdicts were political and "profit the United States, Algeria and Russia".

"They have been convicted because they are Muslims," she said.

Several of the defendants accused investigators of mistreatment and of offering inducements to confess.

The court heard that some of the plotters were former members of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), based in Algeria, who had fled that country, travelled through Europe and regrouped in France.

Others were allegedly international Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda or local hands recruited in French city suburbs.

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