French court convicts Algerian of Paris bombings

PARIS Fri Oct 26, 2007 2:44pm EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - A French court jailed Algerian Rachid Ramda for life on Friday for his role in financing a spate of bomb attacks on the Paris underground rail network that killed eight people and wounded 200 others in 1995.

Paris Assizes Court ordered that Ramda should serve a minimum 22 years behind bars for his role in the attacks, the worst bombings on mainland France since World War Two.

Court president Didier Wacogne, sitting with six professional assessors, said Ramda was "guilty of complicity to murder and attempted murder" as well as an array of explosives and other offences.

Around 70 relatives and friends of victims of the attacks were present for the verdict which was met in silence.

Ramda, 38, who denied the charges, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2006 for terrorist conspiracy linked to the same bombing campaign.

His lawyer Sebastien Bonot protested during the case that Ramda was being tried a second time for the same crime, and said after Friday's verdict that his client would appeal.

"This decision is certainly not a surprise but we feel that justice and the law have not been done," he told reporters.

The prosecution said Ramda was a key figure in Algeria's radical Armed Islamic Group (GIA), and added that phone taps showed he was in regular contact with Ali Touchent and Boualem Bensaid, the GIA's coordinators in France.

A police search of Ramda's London address produced a Western Union payment slip bearing his fingerprints which showed he had sent 5,000 pounds ($10,250) to the Paris bombers.

The GIA claimed responsibility for bombings that were part of a campaign to punish French support for Algerian authorities that scrapped multi-party elections in 1992 that an Islamic party had been poised to win.

"LONDONISTAN"

During his month-long trial Ramda denied involvement in the attacks and caused uproar among victims' families present in public gallery when he said those responsible for the carnage deserved the death penalty.

Bensaid and another man, Smain Ali Belkacem, are currently serving long prison terms for planting the gas cylinder bombs that investigators said were packed with nails and bolts to cause maximum injury.

Friday's conviction marked the culmination of a long battle by the French authorities to try Ramda, who spent 10 years in detention in Britain fighting extradition to France.

Ramda was arrested on a French warrant in 1995 but Britain refused to send him back to France on the grounds he might face mistreatment by anti-terrorism police.

French authorities accused the British of underestimating the threat posed by Islamic militants based in the British capital -- which was dubbed "Londonistan" by some critics of British policy.

However, following the deaths of 52 people in the July 2005 suicide bomb attacks on London's transport system, the mood changed in Britain and Ramda was extradited in December 2005.

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