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Alleged Terrorists Go on Trial in Germany - 2002-04-16

Five alleged terrorists go on trial in Frankfurt, Germany, Tudsday, charged with forming a terrorist cell and plotting to bomb the Christmas Market around Strasbourg Cathedral in neighboring France. It is the first trial of Islamic radicals alleged to have trained in al-Qaida camps.

Security in the Frankfurt district court is very tight. The building has undergone a $530,000 upgrade and has been partly rebuilt for improved security. Thirty security guards have been brought in for the duration of the trial.

Inside, five men, all Algerians, face charges not directly related to the September 11 bombings in the United States. But their trial shows exactly how vulnerable Europe has become to the menace of radicals trained by al-Qaida.

Four of the five were arrested in two Frankfurt apartments, December 26, 2000. Police in France and Germany say they had been watching them for weeks but could wait no longer, fearing they were about to launch an attack.

In a raid on the home of Aeurobui Beandali, they say they found a bomb-making factory, with the ingredients for making nail bombs, as well as pistols, submachine guns and rifles. They also say they found a quantities of black Afghan hashish, which they see as evidence of how the group's operations may have been financed.

In the second apartment, where three of his alleged accomplices were holed up, authorities say they found a video cassette showing the bustling French market. On the video is the voice of the cameraman saying "You will go to hell, if that is God's will."

The fifth man, arrested later, is also charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation. In Britain and Frnace, five other men suspected of involvement with the group are also in detention.

Mr. Beandali's lawyer says his client is not connected with al-Qaida. One German news report Tuesday says he may make a statement naming a Strasbourg synagogue, rather than the market, as the real target of the bombing.

The arrests are said to result from one of the most successful cross-border operations against suspected terrorists in Europe. Phone intercepts and other information gathered in Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain make prosecutors confident they have the evidence they need.

Meanwhile the German federal prosecutor's office said Tuesday police have arrested a man in connection with last week's alleged bombing at a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, in which at least 16 people, including ten German tourists, died. The Tunisian authorities have said the explosion was an accident, set off when a truck carrying gas bottles blew up. But the German authorities are reported to have said the arrest follows a telephone call from Djerba to Germany, intercepted shortly before the blast.