Prominent French jihadist tried in absentia

1st December 2015, Comments 0 comments

Seven members of a network in France accused of recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group went on trial Tuesday, but the highest-profile suspect is being tried in absentia because he is thought to be in Syria.

Salim Benghalem, 35, who has previously been convicted of attempted murder and drugs offences, is subject to an international arrest warrant.

The trial is attracting particular attention as it comes just over two weeks since IS gunmen and suicide bombers struck at Paris, killing 130 people and injuring hundreds.

Prosecutors accuse Benghalem, who is believed to have gone to Syria in 2013, of being a central figure in recruiting radicalised young men for IS.

He was part of a what is known as the Buttes-Chaumont group, named after a Paris district, where he met the three men who would go on to attack the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January this year.

Intelligence sources believe Benghalem is one of the highest-ranked foreign fighters in the Islamic State chain of command and he appeared in an IS video released in February.

Le Monde newspaper reported that he was the target of a French air strike on the IS stronghold of Raqa in Syria in October.

If found guilty of the offences in the latest trial in Paris, he faces a jail sentence of up to 20 years.

Another of the accused spent a year and a half in Syria, fighting for several groups including the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, and is accused of recruiting four of his co-accused.

He was recorded in a telephone conversations complaining that his "brothers" had left Syria "without doing a thing", adding: "It's not Club Med here!".

In contrast, one of those in the dock has never been to Syria.

© 2015 AFP

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