PARIS – A French court on Tuesday handed down a maximum 10-year sentence on the man accused of organizing a bomb plot against the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
Djamel Beghal (search), 39, and five others were convicted of "criminal association in relation with a terrorist enterprise," a broad accusation commonly used in terrorism cases in France that allowed for a maximum 10-year sentence.
The five others were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one year to nine years' imprisonment.
The defendants all denied any connection to a terror plot, and Beghal testified that his confession of a plan to send a bomber into the U.S. Embassy was obtained under torture after his arrest in July 2001 in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (search). He was extradited to France that September.
Lawyers for Beghal and Lamel Daoudi, the other leading defendant, said they would file appeals.
Denouncing the trial as a "judiciary parody," Behgal's lawyer Jean-Alain Michel said, "Proof, we have none. There are no documents, no conversation,"
"If I dare say so, we have our judicial Guantanamo." Michel was referring to the U.S. military base in Cuba where alleged enemy combatants are held.
The investigation was opened Sept. 10, 2001 — a day before the terror attacks in the United States — and involved several European countries.
The prosecution claimed the plot was concocted in Afghanistan with leading Al Qaeda (search ) lieutenant Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in March 2002. Beghal denied, at the trial, ever having met the Saudi-born Palestinian, who was said to be a link between Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and many of the terror group's operational cells.
The charges largely hinged on Beghal's full confession to Dubai authorities — retracted after his extradition to France. He allegedly told Dubai authorities of a plot to target U.S. interests in France and identified a Tunisian accomplice, former professional soccer player Nizar Trabelsi, who was to have entered the U.S. Embassy wearing a bomb belt.
Beghal said the confession was extracted through torture that he claimed included inserting instruments such as knitting needles into his genitals.
Trabelsi was convicted in Belgium in September 2003 after admitting to plans to drive a car bomb into a Belgian air base where U.S. nuclear weapons are believed stored.
Daoudi, 30, who was sentenced Tuesday to nine years imprisonment.
A computer expert who also had trained in Afghanistan, Daoudi was arrested in Britain, where he had fled before a police sweep in France.
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.
Of the other four defendants, Nabil Bounour, and Abdelkrim Lefkir, both 34, were given six-year prison terms. Bounour, of Algerian origin, was also forbidden to return to France once his sentence was served. Lefkir had his civil rights suspended for 10 years, a common punishment in France.
Rachid Benmessahel received a three-year prison term, while Johan Bonte, Beghal's brother-in-law, was sentenced to a year behind bars.
Beghal and Daoudi, both of Algerian origin, spoke at length during the trial about their religious commitment but denied being Islamic radicals ready to commit terror attacks.
Asked if he considered himself a radical, Beghal testified: "I am a Muslim and Muslim to the hilt."