Four Algerians accused of plotting to bomb a French Christmas market were today jailed for up to 12 years in Germany.
A court in Frankfurt found the men guilty of conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to plant a bomb and various weapons offences.
Prosecutors said the defendants were part of a network of predominantly North African extremists called the Non-aligned Mujahideen, with ties to al-Qaida.
But they dropped the charges of belonging to a terrorist group in January in order to speed up the proceedings.
Of the four, Salim Boukari received 12 years – the highest sentence – followed by Fouhad Sabour, who was sentenced to eleven-and-a-half years.
Both had denied intent to kill, insisting that they were only targeting an empty synagogue in Strasbourg, France.
Alleged co-organiser Aeroubi Beandalis, the only one to admit that the cell planned to bomb holidaymakers outside Strasbourg Cathedral on New Year’s Eve 2000, was jailed for 10 years.
The fourth defendant, Lamine Maroni, was sentenced to 11 years.
The trial opened on April 16 amid very tight security and hopes that the suspects’ testimony would reveal the inner workings of al-Qaida’s European network.
Yet while three of the men admitted training in Afghan camps from 1999 to 2000 and said they were recruited by other extremists while living in Europe, their statements gave authorities no substantially new information.
Prosecutors based their case largely on a home-made video of the brightly lit Christmas market and Strasbourg cathedral made by Boukari and Sabour weeks before the attack was to take place.
On the tape, Boukari can be heard saying: “These are the enemies of God.”
Prosecutors also cited the discovery of several pressure cookers and about 65lbs of chemicals that could be used to make explosives, as well as notes about how to make bombs found at one of the two Frankfurt apartments used by the group after their arrest on Christmas Day 2000.
Mohammed Bensakhria, the alleged leader of the Frankfurt-based group – known as the Meliani cell – is believed to have fled Germany but was arrested in Spain in June 2001 and was extradited to France.
He is awaiting trial for plotting attacks including the foiled Christmas market bombing. His alias is Meliani.