Meet the Paris 25

The Islamist terror plot in today’s news has hair-raising elements that require little elaboration. Take a look:

A court on Wednesday convicted 25 people for their roles in preparing an attack in France in support of Islamic fighters in Chechnya.

The five top defendants received prison terms of 8 to 10 years, while the others received lesser sentences. Two were acquitted. All but one defendant had been accused of helping Islamic fighters in Chechnya in what prosecutors said underscored the “globalization of the jihad movement.”

Prosecutors were unable to prove strong suspicions that the attack was to have involved chemicals, even though investigators found equipment, including a protective suit, and chemicals including the highly toxic ricin.

In handing down sentences, the court followed the prosecutor’s office by giving the maximum 10-year term to the group’s alleged chemicals expert, Menad Benchellali. However, Menad’s father, Chellali Benchellali, an imam, or prayer leader, in the Lyon suburb of Venissieux, received only an 18-month suspended prison term — far lower than the prosecution’s demand for six years behind bars.

The court convicted 24 defendants of criminal association in relation with a terrorist enterprise, a broad charge used by France to sweep wide in bringing terror suspects to justice. One other was convicted of using false papers.

The Benchellali family was at the center of the case, with Menad’s mother, Hafsa, and brother, Hafed, also on trial for roles in the plot to carry out an attack in France.

The network was dismantled in two waves, the first in December 2002 as investigators stormed two houses in the Paris suburb of La Courneuve and the nearby town of Romainville. They found gas canisters, fuses, chemicals and a suit to protect against chemical attacks.

During a second wave of arrests, in January 2004 in Venissieux, in southeast France, investigators found chemical products, including ricin, and definitively broke up the network.

The prosecution contended that the group was plotting an attack in Paris, but could not define the target. The Russian Embassy, a police station and the Eiffel Tower were mentioned during interrogations.

Missing from the AP report is any explanation how prosecutors were unable to prove the defendants’ intent to use chemical weapons. A January 2004 BBC report notes: “Police raids at the suspects’ homes in the Paris suburbs of Romainville and La Courneuve revealed diagrams of chemical formulas for explosives and a substance that could make toxic gas, judicial officials said at the time. On Sunday, French Interior Ministry officials said suspects detained by the police had said Menad Benchellali had hoped to concoct a botulism toxin and ricin.” Is there an innocent explanation for possessing the items? (The 2004 BBC story also reports that one of the Benchellalis’ sons (Mourad) was one of six French detainees held at at Guantanamo on suspicion of ties to al Qaeda.)

The AP story lacks any explanation how a terrorist attack in Paris would support Islamist fighters in Chechnya. The BBC’s radio report on the convictions this morning states that among the intended targets were “Israeli interests,” a fact which appears to have dropped out of the AP story. Also missing from the AP story is any of the handwringing on display among Canadians asking what they did to deserve the attention of jihadists bent on destruction. Mark Steyn’s review of Melanie Phillips’s Londonistan addresses the Canadians’ mystification: “You can’t believe your lyin’ eyes.” (Thanks to reader Malcolm Smordin.)

UPDATE: How could I have missed this? With perfect timing, the New York Times gives its op-ed page over to a column by Mourad Benchellali: “Detainees in despair.” Reader Robert Stutz comments: “He found himself in an al Qaeda training camp, accidentally, and was subsequently subject to unspecified torture at Gitmo. He can’t believe how awful it was and how innocent the detainees are. Coincidentally, of course, his family is involved in a terror plot.”

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