The trial of six men accused of plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Paris opened with testimony from the suspected ringleader.
Voluble French-Algerian Djamel Beghal (search), 39, told the Paris court on Monday that he had been kept in solitary confinement awaiting trial since his arrest in 2001. Terrorism suspects are sometimes detained alone for security reasons.
"I've not spoken for three years, so now I'm going to catch up," he said.
He explained how he moved to France in his 20s, married, did odd jobs and found his Islamic faith, which became "one of my reasons for living."
Asked if he considers himself a radical, he replied: "I am a Muslim and Muslim to the hilt."
Moving to Britain in the 1990s enabled him to practice Islam "in a complete manner," Beghal added. But, following problems with British authorities, he moved in 2000 with his family to Afghanistan — then under Taliban (search) control.
He called it "an Islamic country where I found the most answers to my questions."
Beghal, carrying an illegally obtained French passport, was arrested in July 2001 in the United Arab Emirates after leaving Afghanistan, where he allegedly lived in terror training camps. He was extradited to France in late September 2001.
During two months of detention in Dubai, he told local authorities of a plot to target U.S. interests in France, notably the American Embassy, and said the scheme was ordered by Usama bin Laden's terror network, officials have said.
The investigation into the alleged plot was opened on Sept. 10, 2001 — a day before the U.S. terror attacks.
The suspects are charged with criminal association with a terrorist enterprise, and risk up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The trial is to last until Feb. 16. All six suspects attended the opening day Monday, but only Beghal testified.
Beghal has previously allegedly identified a Tunisian accomplice — former professional soccer player Nizar Trabelsi (search) — who was to enter the U.S. Embassy wearing a bomb belt.
However, Beghal later recanted that testimony during questioning in France and suggested he had been tortured in Dubai and forced to make up the story, officials have said.
One of his lawyers, Claire Doubliez, said he would describe the circumstances of his Dubai interrogation, including the alleged mistreatment, during the trial.
Trabelsi is serving a 10-year sentence in Belgium for plotting bomb attacks on U.S. military personnel and involvement in an Al Qaeda-linked ring in Europe.
Beghal provided information to investigators that led to the arrest of several other suspects, including Kamel Daoudi, 30, a quiet computer expert arrested in Britain in 2002 with fake identity documents after fleeing his home in a southern Paris suburb.
According to the prosecution, Daoudi was to send information about the preparation for the attack to Afghanistan via the Internet — and receive the green light for the attack in the same way.
The French investigation uncovered links between the suspects on trial here and others in Belgium, like Trabelsi, and in the Netherlands where Jerome Courtailler, a French convert to Islam, was tried in the U.S. Embassy plot. He was acquitted in 2002 in the case, but that was overturned by an appeals court that sentenced him to six years in prison.