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Witness Links Suspects to Al-Qaida

September 26, 2002

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ A witness at the terrorism trial of four Algerians accused of plotting to bomb a French Christmas market linked the group to Osama bin Laden for the first time Thursday.

The witness, once a fellow inmate of two defendants, said in testimony that defendant Aeurobi Beandalis told him their group’s purported leader, Abdul Rahman, had ``direct contact″ with bin Laden.

The witness, Mohamed Saddiki, also said another defendant, Lamine Maroni, boasted of involvement in ``terrorist activities″ in London and said he was ``on his way to an operation″ when he was arrested in Frankfurt in December 2000.

Saddiki, a 24-year-old Moroccan, said he met Maroni at a prison hospital in Kassel, Germany, and Beandalis at a prison in Weiterstadt. German federal police have put him in a witness protection program.

Maroni, Beandalis, Salim Boukari, and Fouhad Sabour are charged with belonging to a terrorist organization, plotting to plant explosives with the intent to kill, falsifying documents and violating weapons laws.

The suspects are believed to belong to the so-called Meliani group, which has been linked to a larger group of predominantly North African extremists known as Nonaligned Mujahideen, with ties to al-Qaida.

Based on scenes from a confiscated videotape, prosecutors have accused the four of planning to attack the market in Strasbourg, France. The video shows the central cathedral in Strasbourg and its surrounding streets bedecked with glittering lights and full of Christmas revelers.

The four insist they were targeting an empty synagogue in Strasbourg, not the lively Christmas market. They have been on trial in a Frankfurt state court since April.

In testimony Tuesday, Saddiki said Beandalis talked about having planned an attack, but on a Jewish site in the French city of Lille.

Beandalis spoke of ``the holy battle against Christians and Jews″ and that his group was ``sent out to fight the infidels,″ the witness said.

Beandalis has admitted to plotting to blow up a synagogue in France, but insisted those plans had nothing to do with al-Qaida or bin Laden.

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