Four suspected Islamic militants went on trial here Tuesday, accused of belonging to a support network for the two suicide bombers who killed the anti-Taliban leader Ahmed Shah Masood in Afghanistan on Sept. 9, 2001, two days before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
As with the Sept. 11 strikes, Masood’s death led investigators to well-organized logistics cells that appear to have operated across borders in several European countries.
French prosecutors allege that the four defendants, who are of North African descent and were arrested in France, had contact with a counterfeiting network in Belgium that provided fake identity papers to Masood’s killers.
Youssef el-Aouni, 31, a French national of Moroccan descent, and Adel Tebourski, 41, who is also French but of Tunisian origin, were detained by the French secret service in November 2001.
Two months later, investigators arrested a 27-year-old Algerian, Abderahmane Ameroud, and Mehrez Azouz, 37, who holds dual French-Algerian citizenship.
If convicted on a charge of “criminal association in relation to a terrorist enterprise,” all four men face prison sentences of as many as 10 years.
A verdict is expected on April 20, with three court hearings each week until then.
As leader of the Northern Alliance, Masood headed an armed rebellion against the Taliban government.
Masood was killed when two Tunisians who were posing as journalists detonated a bomb that had been hidden in a camera.
Fake passports and other documents were found in their bags after the assassination and were traced back to a group run by Tarek Maaroufi, who was sentenced in Brussels to six years in prison in 2003.
Jean-Louis BruguiÃ¨re and Jean-FranÃ§ois Ricard, two leading antiterrorism magistrates in France, are in charge of this case.
The prosecution has said that Tebourski, one of the defendants, admitted belonging to an Islamic group headed by one of Masood’s killers, Dahmane Abdessatar.
Tebourski said he had met Abdessatar in person and that he also changed as much as Â€4,500 into dollars for him before his departure for Afghanistan in May 2000, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.
Besides the four suspected members of the logistics cell for Masood’s assassination, four other men will be tried in the same trial for suspected links to terrorist groups, though for activities unrelated to Masood’s death.
Three of those co-defendants are suspected members of a group based in Paris that investigators refer to as “The Campers” because they bought supplies and equipment in specialized camping stores.
These three men have been identified as Khellaf Hammam, 37, Ibrahim Keita, 38, and Azdine Sayeh, 32.
The men allegedly organized paramilitary training camps in the French Alps, the northern region of Normandy and in forests near Paris with the aim of identifying volunteers for training in Afghanistan.
In the late 1990s, about 50 recruits participated in such excursions, typically involving close-combat sessions and various forms of physical exercise.