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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 23:16 GMT
Germany drops Strasbourg terror charges
Strasbourg, France
Strasbourg was said to be the target
German prosecutors have given up their quest to prove that four Algerians accused of planning a bomb attack in Strasbourg belonged to a terrorist organisation.

The prosecutors have agreed to limit the charges to conspiracy to murder.

It's very hard to prove they are members, because al-Qaeda is an ideology, an Islamic international

Kai Hirschmann, Terrorism researcher, Bonn
Chief prosecutor Volker Brinkmann, who first proposed dropping the terrorism charges to help speed up the trial, insisted the change would not lead to a lesser sentence if the four men were found guilty.

"The proposal is purely about the circumstances and efficiency of the case," he told the Frankfurt court.

The move highlights the problems facing investigators attempting to prove that suspects are part of a global network of Islamic radicals.

The Algerians were said to have links with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, and experts say the collapse of the terrorism charge in Frankfurt is a missed opportunity to explore how al-Qaeda operates in Europe.

Synagogue attack

The four men are accused of planning to detonate a bomb at a Strasbourg Christmas market in 2000.

The defendants - Aeroubi Beandalis, Salim Boukari, Lamine Maroni and Fouhad Sabour - still face serious charges, chiefly that they planned to plant explosives with intent to kill.

Osama Bin Laden
The men were accused of having links with Bin Laden's al-Qaeda group
They face prison sentences of up to 15 years if convicted.

The additional terrorism charges would have slowed down the trial, because of the need to examine witnesses currently held in custody in the United States, France, Morocco and Britain.

Mr Brinkmann said the cost and security measures needed to examine these witnesses far outweighed the possible importance of a guilty verdict.

One of the four, Aeurobui Beandalis, has denied planning to kill, but said that weapons and homemade explosives seized by police when the men were arrested were intended to be used to blow up a synagogue.

He said the attack was planned to harm relations between Israel and France, which he claimed had interfered in Algeria and supported a government he accused of massacring Islamists.

The four men are not accused of involvement in the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US, but they are alleged to have links with radicals elsewhere in Europe, including al-Qaeda.

The trial again highlights Germany's position as a centre of suspected Islamist militants in Europe.

Three of the 11 September hijackers spent several years as students in the northern city of Hamburg.


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