Algerian appeals life sentence over Paris metro bombs

17th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

An Algerian man jailed for life for links to a wave of bomb attacks that killed eight people on the Paris metro in 1995 appeared in a French court on Wednesday to appeal his conviction.

Rachid Ramda, sporting a trim beard and leaning on crutches for a sprained ankle, replied in Arabic when asked to confirm his identity at the hearing attended by families of people who died in the bombings.

He is fighting a 2007 ruling that concluded he acted for the militant Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in funding three attacks on metro stations in which 200 people were also injured.

The most prominent attack was on the Saint-Michel station in the heart of the capital that left eight people dead and 150 injured. The others, on the Musee d'Orsay and Maison-Blanche metro stations, left dozens injured.

"If he had something to say he would have said it in the first trial," said Mireille Glorion, whose 24-year-old daughter Sandrine died in the Saint-Michel attack, before the hearing began.

"He's a manipulator and we could have done without a second trial that is going to plunge us all back into this drama," she said.

Ramda was extradited from Britain in December 2005 after a 10-year legal battle. He had already been sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison by a separate French court on other charges related to the bombings.

Ramda, who will turn 40 on 29 September, denies any connection with the bombings, for which two other men, Boualem Bensaid and Ait Ali Belkacem, are serving life sentences.

He was convicted in 2007 of channelling funds from London to the two perpetrators of the bomb plot, based on evidence that included a bank payment slip bearing his fingerprints.

In the latest appeal trial, his defence lawyers are expected to argue again that Algerian secret services manipulated events and set French investigators on false trails for domestic political reasons.

Investigators believe that in the early 1990s Ramda was a leading GIA operative in Europe, in regular touch with the group's leader in Algeria Jamel Zeitouni who wished to punish France for its support of the Algiers government.

In 1993 Ramda was sentenced to death in absentia in Algeria after being convicted of a bomb attack on the city's airport which killed nine people the year before.

He fled to Britain where he was kept under surveillance and was arrested in November 1995, but he evaded extradition for many years through a series of legal appeals.

His supporters argued against his extradition to France on the grounds that he might be unlawfully sent back to Algeria to face the death penalty, which the French authorities denied.

The delays were a source of friction between Britain and France, who accused the government in London of taking a soft line on Islamist terrorism.

His appeal trial is expected to last a month.


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