US embassy plot 'mastermind' jailed in Paris

15th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 15 (AFP) - A Paris criminal court on Tuesday sentenced a French-Algerian Islamic militant to the maximum 10 years in prison for running a terror cell that plotted to attack the US embassy in the French capital.

PARIS, March 15 (AFP) - A Paris criminal court on Tuesday sentenced a French-Algerian Islamic militant to the maximum 10 years in prison for running a terror cell that plotted to attack the US embassy in the French capital.

The court said Djamel Beghal, 39, acted as the operational mastermind of a radical Islamist cell with links to Al-Qaeda that had contacts across Europe.

Beghal, who has dual French and Algerian nationality, and five co-defendants were found guilty of criminal association in relation with a terrorist enterprise. All had denied the charges against them during the six-week trial.

Key co-defendant Kamel Daoudi, a 30-year-old Algerian computer expert described by the court as the "spiritual mentor" of the group, was sentenced to nine years in prison, one short of the maximum term.

The four other co-defendants received jail terms of one to six years.

In its ruling, the court said that Beghal, "had he not been arrested in the United Arab Emirates, would have returned to France to head up, with the help of the other defendants, a terrorist mission of some kind".

Beghal's attorney Jean-Alain Michel called the ruling a "judicial farce" and said his client would likely file an appeal.

Beghal was arrested in September 2001 at the airport in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, where he allegedly told investigators he was involved in a plot to attack the US embassy in Paris.

He initially claimed to have met twice with Abu Zubaydah, a top aide to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, at a training camp in Afghanistan in March 2001, who told him to organize a cell in Paris to plan the embassy attack.

But he later retracted the confession before top French anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, claiming he had been physically and psychologically abused by police in the United Arab Emirates.

Beghal testified before the Paris court in January that Emirati investigators beat the soles of his feet, partially ripped out his fingernails and introduced objects like knitting needles in his "most intimate parts".

But presiding judge Philippe Vandingenen said there was nothing in the court files to corroborate Beghal's declarations, including a medical examination made at the time of his extradition.

French investigators say Beghal's cell - which was based in Corbeil Essonnes, south of Paris, where he once lived - had contacts in Britain, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.

Beghal later moved to Britain, Germany and Pakistan, before spending time at Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.

The other members of the group were identified in surveillance operations conducted after Beghal's arrest.

Like Beghal, Daoudi spent time at Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in 2001.

Nabil Bounour, 34, and Abdelkrim Lefkir, 36, were each sentenced to six years in prison. Rachid Benmessahel, 35, was handed a three-year jail term and 23-year-old Johan Bonte was sentenced to one year in prison.

Their defence attorneys had asked that they be acquitted, saying that while the six men knew each other and shared radical views, there was no concrete proof that they had planned any attacks against US interests in France.

Michel insisted that Beghal had been forced to confess under duress and that prosecutors had failed to make their case against him.

Daoudi's attorney Frederic Bellanger also said his client would appeal.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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