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Associate of Charlie Hebdo attackers jailed after seven years on the run

French jihadist Peter Cherif, a close associate of the Charlie Hebdo attackers, was transferred overnight to the Paris prosecutor's office to face new charges and finally begin a five-year prison term handed down in 2011.

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The 36-year-old Frenchman fled on the last day of his March 2011 trial in Paris, where he was set to be jailed for five years for fighting with al Qaeda in Iraq. He had been on the run ever since.

He was re-arrested in Djibouti on 16 December and expelled to France, where he was immediately taken into custody and charged upon his arrival at the capital's Charles de Gaulle Airport.

French authorities brought new preliminary charges against him on Thursday, placing him under formal investigation for "terrorist conspiracy".

Cherif is suspected of fighting US forces in Iraq and helping to organise the 2015 shooting at satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead and rocked France to its core.

France's defence minister said he played an "important role in organising" the Charlie Hebdo attack, though his specific role as yet remains unclear.

Cherif is a prime example of the French Muslim youths who travelled to war zones from Afghanistan and Iraq to Yemen and Syria. Cherif went to Iraq in the early 2000s and was arrested in Fallujah in 2004 and held for 19 months by US troops. Also known as Abu Hamza, he later travelled to Yemen, where he was believed to have joined al Qaeda's fighters there.

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He was a close friend of brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, the brothers who killed 11 people at Charlie Hebdo's offices and a policeman outside in January 2015. In the following days their associate, Amedy Coulibaly, killed a policewoman outside Paris and four people during a hostage-taking at a kosher supermarket. All three attackers were later killed in shootouts with police.

Fourteen other people charged with providing assistance to the Kouachi brothers or to Coulibaly are also scheduled to go on trial over the 2015 attacks.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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