Eight go on trial in France on terrorism-funding charges

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Eight men went on trial in Paris Monday accused of carrying out armed robberies and other crimes to finance Islamic extremist movements.

The key suspect in the trial, 36-year-old French-Algerian Ouassini Cherifi, is accused of having headed a criminal gang operating out of his restaurant in a suburb of Paris that allegedly served as a source of funding for Al-Qaeda.

Cherifi, known as "the Turk", was previously convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to five years in prison in 2002 for trafficking false passports to radical Islamist groups.

He was among 28 people detained in police raids on suspected militants in the Paris region in 2005. On a tipoff from one of those arrested, police found a stash of guns and explosives in a storage space.

The other suspects include Tunisians and at least one Frenchman, aged in their thirties, according to court documents.

The opening hearing, which started late on Monday morning at a special criminal court for serious crimes composed entirely of judges, was to be taken up mostly by the reading of the charges.

The suspects are due to be questioned from Tuesday and the trial is due to last until January 28.

The charges against the eight men relate to a failed robbery attempt on a company that transports cash and an armed robbery of a courier service in which the suspects allegedly made off with bags carrying official documents.

Some of the accused have admitted to being members of the criminal gang and taking part in the failed robbery attempt, but have denied the group's goal was to finance terrorism.

Cherifi is alleged to have gone to Turkey in September 2005 to meet members of an extremist cell and to have committed to financing their operations. He has denied the allegation, saying he went to the country on a business trip.

© 2011 AFP

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