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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 June 2006, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
France jails 25 for attack plot
A rebel training camp in Chechnya
Prosecutors said some of the men trained with rebels in Chechnya
A French court has jailed 25 alleged Islamist militants for planning attacks in France in support of Chechen rebels.

The main defendants received jail terms of eight to 10 years, while others were jailed for six months or more. Two defendants were acquitted.

Prosecutors said the group's intended targets may have included the Eiffel Tower, the Halles shopping centre, police stations and Israeli interests.

The group was accused of "jihad" links with Chechen militants fighting Russia.

The ringleaders of the group, most of whom came from Algeria, allegedly received training in Afghanistan or in the war-torn southern Russian republic of Chechnya.

Prosecutors said the group plotted in 2001-2002 to attack targets in the French capital.

These convictions profit the United States, Algeria and Russia
Isabelle Coutant
Defence lawyer

When it was raided in December 2002, the court heard, the group was "close to action".

Police found gas canisters, fuses and a chemical protection suit in the northern Paris suburbs of La Corneuve and Romainville.

In a second wave of arrests about a year later in Venissieux, in south-east France, chemical products including ricin were discovered.

The court convicted 24 defendants of the broad charge of criminal association in relation with a terrorist enterprise. The other was convicted of using false papers.

Merouane Benhamed, 33, described as the group's chief, and Menad Benchellali, 32, the group's alleged chemicals expert, were jailed for 10 years.

Benchellali's father, an imam from Lyon, received an 18-month suspended prison term.

Said Arif, 40, and Nourredine Merabet, described as the group's financier, were sentenced to nine years.

Local recruits

Benhamed's lawyer Isabelle Coutant claimed the verdicts were political and "profit the United States, Algeria and Russia".

"They have been convicted because they are Muslims," she said.

Several of the defendants accused investigators of mistreatment and of offering inducements to confess.

The court heard that some of the plotters were former members of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), based in Algeria, who had fled that country, travelled through Europe and regrouped in France.

Others were allegedly international Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda or local hands recruited in French city suburbs.

More details on the trial

Russian 'torture dungeon' found
09 Jun 06 |  Europe
Timeline: Chechnya
08 Mar 06 |  Country profiles

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