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Madrid blasts link to Islamists trial in France

PARIS, March 17 (AFP) – The trial of three men accused of recruiting for Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan opens in Paris on Wednesday, with evidence to be put to the court showing a link between one of those charged and a prime suspect in last week’s Madrid bombings.

David Courtailler, 28, a French convert to Islam, is said by the prosecution to have met Jamal Zougam at a mosque in the Spanish capital in November 1998 after his return from Afghanistan.

Zougam, a 30-year old Moroccan already suspected by the Spanish authorities of having links with Al-Qaeda, was arrested over the weekend after passengers identified him at the scene of Thursday’s rail blasts.

Evidence of the connection between the two, which is not central to the case against Courtailler, was acquired when anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere travelled to Spain to check possible links with Islamist groups based in Madrid.

Courtailler is charged with criminal association with a terrorist group, along with Ahmed Laidouni, a 35 year-old Frenchman, and Mohamed Baadache, a 34 year-old Moroccan.

Baadache, also known as Abu Qassim, is alleged to have been in charge from 1993 of welcoming European Islamist volunteers in the Pakistani city of Peshawar and sending them on to receive military training in Afghanistan.

Courtailler and Laidouni attended camps run by Osama bin Laden in 1997 and 1998 before returning to Europe “with a view to committing a violent action in France,” according to the prosecution.

Lawyers for the three say there is no evidence that they wished to carry out terrorist attacks.

Courtailler is the brother of Jerome Courtailler, another convert to Islam, who was acquitted in the Netherlands in December 2002 of planning an attack on the US embassy in Paris.

The trial is due to last till April 7.


                                                              Subject: France news