Australia attack probe led by French antiterror tsar

7th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 7, 2007 (AFP) - France's top terrorist hunter, Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, is the driving force behind this week's trial of Willie Brigitte, a French Muslim convert accused of plotting devastating attacks in Australia.

PARIS, Feb 7, 2007 (AFP) - France's top terrorist hunter, Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, is the driving force behind this week's trial of Willie Brigitte, a French Muslim convert accused of plotting devastating attacks in Australia.

Nicknamed the "Sheriff" or "Cowboy" for his one-time habit of carrying a pistol, the tough methods of the 63-year-old judge have shaped the French fight against terrorism for the past 20 years.

Born into a long family line of magistrates, Bruguiere has led the anti-terrorism division of the Paris civil court since 1986. The following year, he took to working under the protection of bodyguards after a grenade was found outside his front door.

Responsible for tracking down the international terrorist Carlos the Jackal as well as Libyan officials convicted of blowing up airliners in the 1980s, he has since earned a reputation as a key player in the fight against Al-Qaeda.

At home, he has rounded up dozens of people in connection with networks that recruited fighters to send to Iraq, Afghanistan or Chechnya, among Islamists in France's five-million strong Muslim community.

In 2003, he placed Brigitte, a Muslim convert from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, under investigation on suspicion of setting up a terror cell in Australia on the orders of a Pakistani extremist group.

Brigitte was charged with "criminal conspiracy in relation with a terrorist enterprise", a controversial, catch-all offence that is used in almost all terrorism cases in France.

One of the toughest anti-terrorism laws in Europe, it gives judges wide-ranging powers of arrest and detention without the need to prove that an attack was imminent.

Bruguiere says the law is his chief weapon in the fight against terrorism, allowing him to break up radical groups before they are able to act, but it has been widely criticised as paving the way for unfair imprisonment.

In 1999 the International Federation of Human Rights called for the law to be scrapped, arguing that it allowed for "arbitrary" prosecutions.

Many of the people arrested under the law have been released without charge: out of 138 people detained following a string of bombings in Paris in 1995, 51 were finally acquitted after up to three years behind bars.

"In many ways the law works. It has helped us stay on top of potentially dangerous people or networks and quite often to stop them from taking action," said Alain Chouet, a former head of France's DGSE foreign intelligence agency.

"But we are at the very limit of what is possible within the law, in terms of European principles and ethics."

Brigitte's lawyer Jean-Claude Durimel has argued that the French prosecution was launched based on scant evidence, saying that otherwise he would have been prosecuted in Australia.

The Brigitte case is likely to be among Bruguiere's last, since he is expected to contest France's June parliamentary election as a candidate for the right-wing Union for a Popular Movement.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Terrorism

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