Eight men are on trial in Paris on charges of armed robbery to finance Islamist extremism. As the proceedings begin, there is heightened concern about terrorism in Europe.
The eight men are accused of one armed robbery and another botched attempt in the Paris area in 2004 and 2005. The attacks allegedly were intended to finance radical Islam, notably in Iraq. Prosecutors claim the eight, who include French and North Africans, made contacts with extremists linked to al-Qaida in Syria, Algeria and Turkey.
According to the prosecution, the men formed their ties in prison, where they had served terms for previous offenses. The alleged gang leader, 36-year-old French Algerian Ouassini Cherifi, already has served a sentence for trafficking false passports for Islamist extremists.
The men deny ties with radical Islam, although some admit to ordinary crime. One defendant's lawyer, Olivier Combe, spoke to France's RTL radio.
Combe said that while the men knew each other and shared the same religious beliefs, they had no links to terrorism. He said his client did not have the financial means to support an Islamist cause.
While the charges date from several years, concerns about terrorist strikes are high in Europe. A number of European countries have notched up their terrorism alert levels in recent months, amid new threats of strikes. Last week, police in Denmark and Sweden arrested five men suspected of plotting to attack a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.