'Guantanamo six' trial inspects French intelligence

27th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 27, 2006 (AFP) - A French court Wednesday postponed its verdict in the trial on terrorism charges of six former Guantanamo inmates, saying it wanted more information on a controversial French intelligence mission to the US base.

PARIS, Sept 27, 2006 (AFP) - A French court Wednesday postponed its verdict in the trial on terrorism charges of six former Guantanamo inmates, saying it wanted more information on a controversial French intelligence mission to the US base.

The court had been due to hand down a verdict on the six defendants, who were held for up to three years at the US base in Cuba following their capture in Afghanistan in 2001.

Accused of staying in Afghan camps linked to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden they were charged upon their return to France with "criminal conspiracy in relation to a terrorist enterprise".

But in an unexpected U-turn, Judge Jean-Claude Kross said he wanted to know more about a secret service mission to question the men in Guantanamo, before reaching a final verdict.

New hearings in the case have been scheduled to start on May 2 and the former head of counter-terrorism at France DST intelligence agency, Louis Caprioli, is to appear for questioning.

"I am sorry," Kross said, addressing the lawyers. "We have to start again from scratch. "We may have to consider obtaining access to classified intelligence material."

Defence lawyers have accused France of colluding with US authorities over the Guantanamo detentions by sending agents to question them at the base outside of any legal framework.

They argued that any information derived from their questioning in Guantanamo should be classed as irreceivable in court.

The defendants' lawyers cried victory following what they called an "exceptional decision" by the court.

"It is the first time in France that a judge says 'The end does not justify the means'," said lawyer William Bourdon.

"We have always said there was a very serious failing of loyalty on behalf of the French secret services, liable to undermine the whole proceedings."

Mourad Benchellali, 25, Nizar Sassi, 26, Khaled Ben Mustapha, 34, Redouane Khalid, 38, Brahim Yadel, 36, and Imad Achab Kanouni, 29, were captured in 2001 during the US-led war to oust the Taliban and handed over to US forces. They were released to France in 2004 and 2005.

The state attorney called for all but Kanouni to be found guilty, but asked for lenient, one-year prison sentences, saying their "abnormal detention" in Guantanamo should be taken into account.

She argued that the five others knowingly travelled to Afghanistan using a "terrorist" underground network based in London.

Some admitted to staying in Al-Qaeda camps but all denied fighting US forces or planning attacks in Europe.

Though none is currently in detention, all six spent periods in pre-trial custody and could therefore expect to avoid jail if the court follows the prosecutor's recommendation.

Separately, a 37 year-old Moroccan man suspected of having links with the September 11 attackers, went on trial in Paris Wednesday accused of terrorist-related offences.

Karim Mehdi, who was arrested in June 2003, is the only person to face charges arising out of the French judicial investigation into the 2001 attacks in the United States.

He is accused of having been in contact with Ziad Jarrah — a Lebanese who was on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania — as well as Ramzi Binalshibh, a Yemeni believed to have been among the plotters.

However there was no evidence he took part in planning the suicide hijackings.

Mehdi told the court that he met the two men only once, on a visit to the German city of Hamburg. "I have nothing to do with these stories," he said.

He was detained at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris en route from Germany to the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where investigators say he was planning to carry out surveillance for a future bomb attack.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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