French Muslim convert on trial for Australia plot

6th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 6, 2007 (AFP) - A French Muslim convert accused of plotting to attack a Sydney nuclear reactor and strategic targets across Australia, goes on trial from Wednesday in Paris on charges of terrorist conspiracy.

PARIS, Feb 6, 2007 (AFP) - A French Muslim convert accused of plotting to attack a Sydney nuclear reactor and strategic targets across Australia, goes on trial from Wednesday in Paris on charges of terrorist conspiracy.

Willie Brigitte, a 38-year-old from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, was arrested in Australia in 2003 following a tip-off from the French intelligence services, and deported for immigration offences.

In French custody since his return, Brigitte faces up to 10 years' imprisonment on charges of "criminal conspiracy in relation with a terrorist enterprise", at the outcome of the three-day trial.

Brigitte has been portrayed in Australia as the country's most dangerous Al-Qaeda link, suspected of plotting destruction on the scale of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

France's top anti-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who investigated the case, suspects him of setting up a terror cell in Australia on the orders   of the Pakistani Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Its alleged targets included the Pine Gap US electronic intelligence outpost in central Australia, the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney, and military bases across the country.

But according to the former head of France's DGSE foreign intelligence agency, Alain Chouet, French prosecutors may have trouble proving their case.

"Objectively, there isn't very much against him. The case is not empty --  this young man is certainly a troublemaker, involved in radical circles -- but nothing like the terrorists of September 11."

"If the Australians had concrete, converging evidence, why didn't they prosecute him themselves?" Chouet asked. "Willie Brigitte is not the case of the century and he is certainly no Islamist mastermind."

However Louis Caprioli, who was head of the DST domestic intelligence agency at the time of Brigitte's arrest, said the evidence against him was solid.

"One thing is certain, he wasn't in Australia for a holiday in the sun. It was an operational trip, aimed at setting up a cell with a view to carrying out attacks," he said.

"To liken him to Osama bin Laden is to make him sound more important than he is, but he certainly had an important operational role."

Brigitte was first spotted by French DST agents in 1998, after he converted to Islam and travelled to Yemen to attend a Koranic school seen as linked to Al-Qaeda.

Back in Paris, he started attending a radical Islamist mosque, rubbing shoulders with members of the armed Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

He allegedly went on to run forest training camps in France to toughen up would-be Islamist fighters, and was linked to a group that abetted the murder of the anti-Taliban Afghan war chief Ahmad Shah Massood, killed two days before September 11.

After 9/11, Brigitte is thought to undergone combat training in Pakistan -- after a "sleeping period" back in France -- and was allegedly summoned to Australia by a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative.

Moving under the wing of Faheem Khalid Lodhi, a Pakistani-born architect sentenced to 20 years in jail in 2006 for planning to blow up Sydney's power grid, he settled in a southwest suburb of Sydney.

There he spent five months working in a kebab shop, married an Australian Muslim convert and former army signaller, Melanie Brown, and allegedly drew up plans for his own attack.

His French lawyer Jean-Claude Durimel insists his client went to Australia "for a change of life" and says there is "no material evidence" against him.

"My client has never been a terrorist, he never plotted any kind of attack in Australia. The prosecution doesn't even know the target of this alleged attack: they've listed everything except the Sydney Opera House," Durimel said.

The French prosecution against Brigitte was made possible by the catch-all offence of "criminal conspiracy in relation with a terrorist enterprise" -- the charge used in almost all terrorism cases in France.

One of the toughest anti-terrorism laws in Europe, it gives judges wide-ranging powers of preventive arrest and detention, but has been criticised as paving the way for unfair imprisonment.

However, France's Bruguiere -- who has spent two decades tracking Islamic militants among France's five-million strong Muslim community -- says the law is his chief weapon, allowing him to break up radical groups before they are able to act.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Terrorism, Nuclear reactor, Australia

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