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France - Mali

French jihadist jailed for eight years

Gilles Le Guen in the Aqmi video, October 2012.
Gilles Le Guen in the Aqmi video, October 2012. Video screen grab

Jihadist Gilles Le Guen, arrested in April 2013 by French special forces in Timbuktu, Mali, was jailed for eight years by a Paris court on Friday. Le Guen, 60, was captured by a French commando unit in Mali in 2013. He is the first French national to be prosecuted under an anti-terrorist law passed in 2012.

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Le Guen faced charges of criminal association in relation with a terrorist group.

Prosecutors called for a sentence of eight years imprisonment if found guilty.

Le Guen “converted to Islam in 1982, [he] took a very independent path in life,” his lawyer Alexandre Vermynck told the court last week.

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He “found himself in Mali before Aqim [Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] had taken control there […] then they somehow got linked,” he added.

Le Guen is accused of collaborating with Al-Qaeda’s north African branch.

He first appeared on foreign intelligence radars in September 2012 in a picture of an Aqim meeting.

A month later he appeared in an Aqim propaganda video, dressed in a khaki-coloured tunic and black turban, carrying a Kalashnikov and warning Western powers against meddling in Mali.

“He mostly regrets what happened in Mali,” said his lawyer, “the video […] is part of the things he regrets and which he has not had in some respects total freedom over the text.”

The Paris prosecutor has also charged him for his participation, in January 2013, in an Aqim offensive against the city of Diabali against French and Malian military.

Sitting in a pick-up loaded with explosives, he told the French army he wasn’t directly involved in the offensive.

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Last week he told the court he opposed terrorist attacks and hostage-taking and criticised Aqim.

“These terrorists don’t have anything to offer to the people,” he said.

Born in 1955 in the western city of Nantes, Le Guen was in France’s merchant navy in his 20s.

Eventually he converted to Islam and settled in Morocco, then Mauritania and then Mali in the late 2000s.

He lived with his Moroccan wife and five children at the time of his capture by French special forces.

The French authorities have estimated that around 3,000 nationals have left the country to wage jihad abroad.

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