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French convert to Islam convicted for al-Qaida links in Mali

May 15, 2015

PARIS (AP) — A Paris court convicted a 60-year-old Frenchman and sentenced him to eight years in prison on Friday for belonging to al-Qaida’s North African affiliate and taking part in armed actions in northern Mali.

Gilles Le Guen, a former Breton merchant marine officer who converted to Islam 30 years ago, was convicted of criminal association in relation with a terrorist organization, his lawyer Alexandre Vermynck said.

Le Guen appeared in an October 2012 online video, sitting next to an assault rifle and warning the French and U.S. presidents against intervention in northern Mali, which was largely controlled by Islamist extremists at the time. France intervened the following January to rout al-Qaida in the Maghreb, or AQIM, and other groups.

Special French forces arrested Le Guen in April 2013.

The father of eight who had married three times told the court he had at one point shared the political views of AQIM but then distanced himself.

Le Guen was accused of taking part in military training and participating in a March 2013 offensive against the city of Diabali. During his trial, Le Guen denied taking part in violent acts even though he was in a pickup truck loaded with explosives near the action.

He has 10 days to appeal the ruling. The conviction was among the first under a 2012 French anti-terrorism law by which a citizen can be prosecuted for involvement in terrorist acts abroad. In the past such acts were left in the hands of the legal jurisdiction in the country concerned.

Le Guen has been an unusual case among foreign jihadis, refusing to hide his presence in northern Mali. There were reports by some Malians after his arrest that Le Guen endeared himself to ordinary citizens by taking a stance against the flogging of women who failed to follow the strict code imposed by extremist occupiers.

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