PARIS (AP) — The chief of a dismantled French radical network was sentenced Friday to nine years in prison for recruiting for jihad, plotting attacks against Jewish targets and praising terrorism. The relatively severe verdict comes as France is trying to prevent extremist violence by angry, marginalized Muslims.
A Paris court on Friday convicted Mohamed Achamlane, self-proclaimed “emir” of the Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride) group, of terrorism charges. The French citizen was accused of plotting attacks including targeting kosher markets and other Jewish businesses in Paris, abducting and torturing a Jewish judge in Lyon and threatening France.
Thirteen others, who like Achamlane were convicted of criminal association with a terrorist enterprise, were sentenced to up to six years in prison — except for the lone female defendant who got a suspended 12-month sentence.
The verdict came six months after attacks on a kosher supermarket and satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which left 20 people dead including the three radical Muslim gunmen.
Achamlane said he created the group in 2010 to counter exaggerated fears about Islam and to “channel the energy” of young Muslims.
Achamlane, 37, testified that he favored an “uninhibited” Islam but denied any violent intent or “terrorist inspiration.”
“I am the emir of a group that is considered Islamist and I do not hide anything,” Achamlane said.
The group was dissolved in 2012 and its suspected members were arrested because authorities feared they would carry out violent acts. Achamlane and other main defendants have been in custody since then.
The judge, Dominique Piot, said the court found Achamlane intended to “perpetrate an act of a terrorist nature.”
She noted a number of Internet chats, including one in which Achamlane praised Mohamed Merah, who killed three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse as well as three French paratroopers before being killed by police.
In another chat, he said he wanted to “scar” France; in another, he compared himself with Osama bin Laden, according to court documents.
Lori Hinnant contributed to this report.