Monday, March 14, 2005

French trial highlights role of friendship in Muslim militant groups

Beghal's friends also include the man allegedly designated as the embassy suicide bomber, Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian. He was convicted in Belgium in September 2003 after admitting to plans to drive a car bomb into a Belgian air base where U.S. nuclear weapons are believed stored.

Another friend, Jerome Courtallier, a French convert to Islam, was convicted of a role in the U.S. Embassy plot in a trial in the Netherlands. Camaraderie and family ties have turned up in other terror cases, too. A group of young men funneling would-be Islamic warriors to Iraq from an eastern Paris neighborhood grew up together. The ring, dismantled in January, was allegedly headed by a 23-year-old whose stature ballooned after his big brother, an Islamic activist, was deported to Algeria.

In one of the most serious terrorism plots uncovered in France, an alleged chemical attack on Russian interests in France, four of the suspects are related, others are friends. Menad Benchellali allegedly mixed toxic potions in his mother's jars of facial cream at their apartment in Venissieux, outside Lyon, while his father, Chellali Benchellali, collected money for Muslim Chechen rebels at the makeshift mosque he ran. A third son, Mourad, ended up in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, along with a friend. Both were returned home in July.

When questioned about visits and favors for acquaintances, some of the defendants in the U.S. Embassy bomb plot trial showed surprise at what they said was a way of life. ``Where's the problem?'' said Lefkir when asked about services he rendered to suspect friends. ``We Muslims are like that.''


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