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Two Algerians on Trial in Paris for 1995 Bombing Campaign - 2002-10-01

Two men accused of a series of terrorist attacks in France are on trial in Paris. The men, both Algerians, are blamed for a 1995 bombing campaign in which eight people were killed and many others injured.

The trial against Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, and Boualem Bensaid opened in a packed Paris courtroom. The audience included roughly 200 victims of three bombings in 1995, two in Paris metro stations and one in the city's d'Orsay museum.

Belkacem and Bensaid, both 34 years old, are accused of murder or attempted murder and of having links to a terrorist group. Both men are Algerian and suspected members of an Algerian guerrilla group called Armed Islamic Group.

Monique, one victim of one of the 1995 bombings, this week told French radio how she was injured. Monique said she was waiting for a train on a July afternoon, when an explosion ripped through the St. Michel metro station, in Paris. It was 5:30 p.m., the height of rush hour. Monique said she was wounded in one leg, but managed to escape from the station. Now, she says, she is still afraid of traveling in Paris, and incapable of living a normal life.

The attacks took place at the height of Algeria's civil war, pitting Islamist extremists against the country's military-backed government.

But the Armed Islamic Group also targeted France for appearing to back the Algerian government. The group is blamed for a half-dozen bombings in France, staged between June and November of 1995.

A third suspect, Rachid Ramda, was not present in the courtroom. Mr. Ramda, who is accused of bankrolling some of the bombings, currently sits in a British prison. London refuses to extradite him on grounds he would not receive a fair trial in France.

The fate of Mr. Ramda has become a major thorn in British-French relations. He is expected to be judged later, in a separate trial.

The Belkacem-Bensaid trial is expected to last almost a month. In 1999, both men were sentenced to prison for staging another bombing. If found guilty in this second trial, they could face life in prison, with possible parole after 22 years.