French 'anarchist cell' cleared of terror charges over rail sabotage
An alleged "anarchist cell" at the centre of one of France's most politically-charged legal sagas is finally to be tried for sabotaging high-speed train lines.
But in a major blow to police, who conducted a seven-year investigation into the group, the four will not face terror charges, judicial sources told AFP on Saturday.
The so-called Tarnac group was rounded up in high-publicised raids in November 2008 accused of sabotaging the TGV network around Paris, a powerful symbol of French national pride and technical know-how.
Thousands of passengers and more than 160 train services were delayed after steel rods were put across overhead power cables on three high-speed lines between Paris and London, Brussels and the French regions.
Then interior minister Michele Alliot-Marie branded the group a dangerous "ultra-left anarchist movement", but the group -- who lived in a rural commune in central France -- and many on the French left, accused President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing government of trying to frame them.
But in a major blow to the authorities, anti-terrorist judge Jeanne Duye came down against their demands in her long-awaited judgement Friday to try them for terror offences.
- 'The Coming Insurrection' -
She did, however, send the group's reclusive leader Julien Coupat, his wife Yildune Levy and two others for trial on conspiracy charges, sources said.
The group's lawyers called the decision a "total repudiation" of the allegations against the four.
"After nearly seven years of trying to pin the blame on them, we finally have a courageous judicial decision. It is a total repudiation of the prosecution case," Marie Dose and William Bourdon said.
"From the beginning, our clients were considered and treated like terrorists. Finally they have realised that it doesn't stick," they added.
"Our arrest was purely political and was based on false testimony from the police," said another of the accused, Mathieu Burnel. "All this will fall apart at our trial."
The case centred on the charismatic figure of Coupat, 40, a far-left intellectual from a wealthy family who had gathered a group of 20 followers around him in a remote village in the Correze region of central France.
Relying heavily on passages from a 2007 book attributed to Coupat, "The Coming Insurrection", investigators claimed the group -- the "invisible committee of the imaginary party" -- had tipped over from radical anarchist politics into terrorism.
The book discussed sabotage and other ways to "finalise the fall of the state", and mentioned the high-speed TGV network as an "easy" target.
But Coupat, who refused to confirm he was its author, said it was "risible that terrorism charges could be brought on the basis on a book on public sale."
Coupat and Levy, 31, admitted being close to TGV lines east of Paris when an iron bar was placed on the track on the night of November 7, 2008, but denied putting it there.
Coupet spent more than six months in jail as police tried to build a case against him, with Levy also locked up for more than two months.
The prosecution has five days to appeal the judge's decision.
© 2015 AFP