(photo credit: ARAB MEDIA)
Three French-national suspected jihadists, arrested in Turkey after traveling to Syria, were charged by the French Republic on Saturday with planning terrorist attacks.
They were charged with “criminal association with the aim of planning terrorist acts,” Pierre Dunac, one of the lawyers, told the French news agency, AFP.
One of the suspects is Abdelouahab el-Baghdadi, 29, the brother-in-law of Mohammed Merah, the Islamist who, in March 2012, killed seven people in the south of France, including four Jews and three children, before being shot dead in Toulouse by the special anti-terrorist unit of the French police. Merah’s brother has been in prison since, and his sister, Souad, Baghdadi’s wife, also has been investigated.
According to the lawyers, who were widely quoted in French media, the trio admits to traveling to Syria but deny fighting there or plotting attacks in France.
Baghdadi “understands the need to seek an explanation about his travels in Syria... but he doesn’t present a danger for France,” his lawyer, Pierre Lebonjour, said.
Another suspect is Imad Jjebeli, Merah’s childhood friend, who was convicted in 2009 for ties to a jihadist network in Iraq.
Dunac explained that the two traveled to Syria and then “realized over there that it was not what they thought it would be and fled to go home.”
They initially were arrested in Turkey on suspicions of being part of a network recruiting jihadists for Syria, but went free after arriving in France.
It was first announced on Tuesday that they had been arrested at Orly airport, near Paris, but it turned out they had not been at Orly at all. Rather had flown into Marseille where passport control failed to flag them as suspicious since the security database was out of order and they went free.
On Wednesday, they turned themselves over to police and appeared before an anti-terrorist judge in Paris. All three already were subject to investigation in a case opened in September 2013.
France, as is the case with the UK and other European countries, is concerned about nationals who travel to Syria and Iraq and return home as professional terrorists.