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Trial for Alleged al-Qaida Members Begins in France - 2004-10-06

Ten people suspected of plotting a terrorist attack on the eastern French city of Strasbourg are on trial in Paris. The suspects are believed to have ties with the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The 10 men are accused of planning a terrorist attack on the cathedral and Christmas market of Strasbourg, France, four years ago. The plot was uncovered just days before the attack was to have been carried out, in December 2000.

The defendants are all of Algerian or French Algerian descent. Prosecutors accuse one of them, 37-year-old Mohammed Bensakria, of being a lieutenant of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Bensakria was extradited from Spain in the summer of 2001.

Three other men on trial are also considered leaders of the alleged Strasbourg terrorist ring. One of them, 37-year-old Rabah Kadri, is jailed in Britain. He is being tried in absentia.

All four men allegedly learned how to use weapons and explosives in al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan.

The other six defendants are accused of having supplied false papers and other logistical support to the group.

All of the defendants are accused of criminal conspiracy in the Strasbourg plot. They face up to 10 years in prison.

Last year, a German court sentenced four other men connected to the group to prison terms ranging from 10 to 12 years. The men were accused of plotting to blow up the cathedral and Christmas market with homemade explosives.

During a pre-trial investigation, German police discovered a cache of weapons, explosive devices, and a video that showed images of the Strasbourg Cathedral, and sounds of someone saying, "Here is the Cathedral of the enemies of God."

Experts say cooperation among European counter-terrorism police has increased in recent years, particularly since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Authorities across Europe staged a series of arrests of suspected Islamist extremists.

France and Spain recently signed a far-reaching agreement to work jointly in efforts against terrorism networks, including the Basque extremist group ETA.

This latest trial of the 10 bomb-plot suspects is expected to end in early December