Seven accused of joining IS group in Syria go on trial in France
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The trial of seven Frenchmen suspected of travelling to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) group was due to get underway Monday, with one the brother of one of the perpetrators of the November 13 Paris terror attacks among the accused.
The men from Strasbourg in eastern France, all aged between 24 and 26, will go before the High Court of Paris to face charges of conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, punishable by up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
Among the men, who were arrested in May 2014, is Karim Mohamed-Aggad, brother of Foued Mohamed-Aggad who was part of the three-man group that attacked the Bataclan concert hall on the night of the Paris attacks in November.
The accused travelled to Syria in December 2013 with the help of a jihadist recruiter known to intelligence services named Mourad Farès, prosecutors allege.
They all then returned to France two to three months later – shortly before the IS group declared its “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria in June 2014. However, Bataclan attacker Foued Mohamed-Aggad, who also travelled with the seven defendants, stayed behind.
A year-and-a-half later, Foued Mohamed-Aggad would be one of three men who, using guns and suicide vests, killed 90 people at the Bataclan, during the attacks on Paris.
The defendants have all claimed to have travelled to Syria for “humanitarian” purposes.
Controversially, prosecutors will use as evidence in the trial a trove of alleged IS group documents leaked to British TV station Sky News in March, in which thousands of individuals with links to the terrorist organisation are listed.
The move has been criticised by the defence lawyers.
"Five days from the trial, this is an unusual step," one of the defence lawyers, Eric Plouvier, said last week, adding that there were doubts over the authenticity of the documents.
"Either these elements should be removed, or there should be a report to study [their authenticity]," he said.
The documents contain some 22,000 names of individuals linked to the IS group in 2013 and early 2014, the investigation source said.
An estimated 173 of those names are French citizens or residents of France, including several who have died in Syria and Iraq and two more of the Paris attackers – Samy Amimour and Omar Ismail Mostefai.
The documents, written in Arabic under the title "General Border Administration", log the name, blood type, date of birth, previous job, level of religious education and more of each new arrival to the IS group zone of control.
They are also listed as "combatant", "martyr" or "Inghimasi", a term referring to fighters who carry weapons as well as an explosive suicide vest.
The documents list the seven men from Strasbourg as "combatants".
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)