By Thierry Leveque Reuters 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.