Islamists in prison for planning attacks in Paris

14th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 14, 2006 (AFP) - A French court handed down prison terms ranging from six months to 10 years Wednesday on more than 20 Islamic radicals convicted of planning to carry out attacks on the Eiffel Tower and other targets in Paris.

PARIS, June 14, 2006 (AFP) - A French court handed down prison terms ranging from six months to 10 years Wednesday on more than 20 Islamic radicals convicted of planning to carry out attacks on the Eiffel Tower and other targets in Paris.

A total of 27 people were charged with belonging to a so-called "Chechen" connection -- named because ring-leaders allegedly received training in the Caucasus. Two were acquitted Wednesday.

Prosecutors at the six-week trial which ended last month said that in December 2002 the group was close to attacking targets including the Eiffel Tower, the Les Halles shopping centre, police stations, and Israeli interests.

Ten year sentences were given to Merouane Benhamed, 33, who was described in court as the group's chief, and to Menad Benchellali, 32. Said Arif, 40, who was extradited from Syria to stand trial, and Nourredine Merabet, described as the group's financier, were sentenced to nine years.

Lesser punishments including suspended jail sentences were handed down on other group-members who were found to have played only a small role in the plot. All were charged with "criminal association in relation with a terrorist enterprise."

Benhamed's lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre denounced the verdict, saying the defendants were "convicted because they are Muslims. This serves the interests of the US, Algeria and Russia. France has the job of convicting Muslims who are a problem to these powers."

During the trial several defendants accused investigators of mistreatment and of offering inducements to confess.

Prosecutors said the group operated out of a flat in the Paris suburb of Romainville, where they gathered funds from the proceeds of petty crime.

The court was told that at the end of 2002 "they were ready to act". However police then made a series of arrests, confiscating electronic devices and chemicals that can be used for bomb-making.

Among those convicted Wednesday was Chelali Benchellali, the imam of a mosque in the southeastern city of Lyon and father of Menad.

Another of his sons, Mourad Benchellali, was one of seven French detainees held at the US base at Guantanamo Bay. Released in July 2004, Mourad now faces terrorist-related charges in France along with five others.

Investigators originally uncovered the Paris plot while looking into alleged recruitment networks to send young men to fight the Russians in Chechnya. Initial reports after the first arrests suggested the plotters were planning chemical attacks against Russian targets in France.

The sentences handed down Wednesday were in many cases much less severe than those requested by the prosecution.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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