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Ex-Guantanamo prisoners go on trial in France

Written by: Staff

PARIS, July 3 (Reuters) Six French former inmates of the US military detention centre in Guantanamo Bay stood trial in a French court today, denying accusations of links with a network plotting terrorism attacks.

The six, who have all spent lengthy periods in detention in Cuba and in France, face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The prosecution alleges the men joined a terrorism network based in Britain and the Afghan-Pakistan border, having passed through Britain en route to al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.

But the accused said they only went there out of curiosity.

''I wanted to take some risks,'' Nizar Sassi, one of the defendants, told the court. ''It was cool. It was a chance to live my passion for weapons.'' Khaled ben Mustapha said he had gone to Kabul to look for a house for his family, adding: ''Going to Afghanistan doesn't make you a terrorist.'' A third accused, Imad Kanouni, said he wanted to learn more about religion while travelling.

''Afghanistan was in fashion,'' he told the court.

Prosecutors say five of the six men trained in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan between 2000 and 2001 and that Kanouni had fundamentalist religious training there.

Defence lawyers say, at most, their clients were guilty only of naivety in remaining in Afghanistan when US forces arrived after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

Presiding trial judge Jean-Claude Kross said the six men, aged between 24 and 38, were captured in mid December as they tried to flee the advance of US forces and their Afghan allies.

Some were handed over by villagers for a prize of up to 5,000 euros.

Pakistani forces later handed them over to the US military who transferred them to Guantanamo Bay, convinced they had fought for Afghanistan's ousted Islamist Taliban regime.

Benchellali has admitted attending a training camp in Afghanistan, but said friends dragged him into it.

The six were held at Guantanamo without charge or trial along with hundreds of other ''enemy combatants'', and they have complained of insults, physical and psychological torture, and deprivation of food and water.

Sassi, Mustapha, Kanouni, Mourad Benchellali and Redouane Khalid spent several months in French jail before being released under judicial controls. A sixth man, Brahim Yadel, had remained in custody.

Their trial in Paris comes amid a heated debate on Guantanamo after the US Supreme Court last week struck down as illegal a military tribunal system set up by the United States to try Guantanamo prisoners.

The verdict is expected in mid-July.

Reuters SHB VP0002

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