Terror suspect faces French court

A key suspect in a deadly series of terror attacks in Paris in 1995 went on trial today after a decade-long battle by France for his extradition from Britain.

Rachid Ramda, considered the banker for Algerian terrorists who carried out the bombings in the Paris Metro, faces charges of providing logistical help for the attackers. He risks up to 10 years in prison.

The Paris trial, expected to run until March 22, is only the first act in Ramda’s judicial confrontation. In a second trial, not yet scheduled, he will answer to murder charges in the deaths of eight people and the attempted killing of 150 others in three attacks.

For 10 years, Ramda was the object of an extradition battle between Paris and London, which began taking a tougher stance on terror suspects after the September 11, 2001, al Qaida attacks on the United States.

Once Britain gave the green light for his extradition, Ramda used every possible appeal to avoid his transfer to France. He was extradited to France in December, and his first trial date was set days later.

The session is unlikely to go like clockwork.

Ramda’s lawyer, Guillaume Barbe, says he will seek to have the trial postponed until the end of a police inspection into alleged torture of Islamic militants arrested in crackdowns during the attacks.

A book published this month by three journalists at the newsweekly Le Point alleged that Islamist suspects were subjected to torture by interrogators in Paris and Lyon.

Supporters of a campaign to block extradition alleged that Ramda may eventually be deported from France to Algeria and could face execution there. But the British High Court judges said there was no real risk Ramda would be ill-treated in French custody or deported to Algeria.

The prosecution claims that Ramda provided funds for the attackers from his London base. On October 16, 1995, he allegedly sent a money order for £5,000 (€7,300) to one of the leaders of the bombing plots, Boualem Bensaid. Bensaid is now serving a life sentence in France.

A radical Algerian insurgency movement, the Armed Islamic Group, claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, revenge for alleged French support of Algeria’s military-backed government in the brutal insurgency there that began in 1992.

The bloodiest attack, on July 25, 1995, killed eight people at the Saint Michel Metro station and injured 150 others. Two other people died in later attacks and scores were injured.

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