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French far-right suspects on trial over alleged terror plot

PARIS (AFP) – Four far-right suspects accused of planning attacks on mosques and other targets went on trial in Paris yesterday, with a judge surprising the court by ordering the hearings be made public. One of the accused was a teenager when police arrested the suspects in 2018 and 2019, making a closed-door trial for all four men likely under French law.

But presiding judge Christophe Petiteau said given the seriousness of the allegations, “the court considers it important to lift the restricted publicity”.

France has uncovered several violent plots by far-right extremists in recent years, including one in 2018 suspected of preparing an attempt on President Emmanuel Macron’s life.

“We’re talking about a new and growing threat – mass killings inspired by English-speaking countries that are being imported into our territory,” said prosecution lawyer Olivier Dabin.

Prosecutors said the four men, now aged between 22 and 28, joined a private Internet chat group called “Operation WaffenKraft”, where talks “very quickly turned to the preparation of terrorist projects”.

PHOTO: AFP

The chat group discussed targets, including mosques and other targets.

The group’s alleged leader was Alexandre Gilet, at the time a volunteer deputy police officer in the southeastern department of Isere.

Gilet was arrested after police learned he had ordered equipment that could be used for making explosives. At his home, investigators found “regularly used” weapons, including two Kalashnikov assault rifles and lab equipment.

“I think he wanted to do something worse than the Bataclan,” one of the suspects would later say of Gilet.

He was referring to the November 2015 extremist attacks in Paris in which 130 people were killed, dozens of them at the Bataclan concert venue.

The discovery of training videos and photos led police to four other people taking part in a target practice in a remote forest in July 2018. They included one youth who was just 14, and who has already been given a suspended two-year prison sentence in a juvenile court.

Lawyers for the four others criticised the decision to hold a public trial.

Gilet’s lawyer, Fanny Vial, said closed-door hearings “would have allowed these young men, who are struggling to recount their lives, to better explain themselves”. The trial is set to run until June 30.

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