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French court convicts five ex-detainees of terror ties

Email|Print| Text size + By Pierre-Antoine Souchard
Associated Press / December 20, 2007

PARIS - A court convicted five former Guantanamo inmates on terrorism-related charges yesterday, but did not send any of them back to prison in France.

A sixth man was acquitted, and his lawyer said he would try to win reparations from Washington for his time at the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Also yesterday, three longtime British residents were released from Guantanamo and flown to Britain. London police arrested two on suspicion of preparing terrorist acts, while the third was detained for questioning.

The ruling in France capped proceedings that seemed at times like a trial of the US prison camp itself with the prosecutor lashing out at the "Guantanamo system" and saying the prison violates international law.

Seven French citizens were captured in or near Afghanistan by US forces in late 2001. All were held for at least two years at Guantanamo and then handed over to French authorities in 2004 and 2005. One of them was found to have no ties to terrorism and was freed after his return to France.

The others spent up to 17 months in prison in France. But by the time the verdict was announced yesterday, all of them were out of prison pending rulings in their cases.

The five men were convicted of "criminal association with a terrorist enterprise," a broad charge frequently used in France.

All the men insisted during the trial that they were innocent.

The court followed the recommendations of the prosecutor, Sonya Djemni-Wagner.

Five of the men - Brahim Yadel, Khaled Ben Mustafa, Nizar Sassi, Mourad Benchellali, and Ridouane Khalid - said during the trial that they had spent time in military training camps in Afghanistan but maintained they had never put their combat skills to use.

The sixth man, Imad Kanouni, said he went to Afghanistan for spiritual reasons. He was acquitted, as the prosecutor had recommended.

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