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Korean-born convert in dock in France’s first Syria jihadist trial

Smoke rising from fighting between Kurdish fighters and the Islamic State armed group in the Syrian city of Kobane
Smoke rising from fighting between Kurdish fighters and the Islamic State armed group in the Syrian city of Kobane Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

The first trial of a jihadist returned to France from Syria started on Friday. Flavien Moreau, who was born in South Korea and adopted by a French family, is a convert to Islam who left Syria after about 10 days because he could not bear not smoking.

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Prosecutors are calling for Moreau, 27, to be jailed for seven years for plotting to prepare “terrorist acts” and his codefendant, Farid Djebbar, 26, who searched the internet for information on bomb-making and details of President François Hollande’s travels, for four, one of them suspended.

After a life of petty crime that had seen him convicted 13 times, Moreau says he converted to Islam when he was sharing a flat with a Muslim.

His behaviour attracted the attention of the authorities, particularly when, while in prison for theft and violence, he asked a physics teacher how to make a bomb.

In November 2012 he managed to enter Syria, buying a Kalashnikov assault rifle and ammunition and joining a jihadi unit in the Syrian town of Atbe.

Moreau only managed to stay in Atbe “about 10 days” because, he claims, smoking was banned by the jihadis and, although he had taken anti-smoking gum, he “had a lot of trouble not smoking”.

He returned briefly to France, intending to buy an electronic cigarette, and was then picked up by Turkish police while trying to get back into Syria.

His attempts to enter several countries, including Germany, Jordan, Israel, Tunisia, Britain, Lebanon and Bulgaria, were noted and French anti-terror investigators tapped his phone, leading them to Djebbar, whose computer showed traces of 870 internet searches for information on bomb-making, 367 for information on Al-Qaeda and two about how to meet Hollande.

Moreau was finally arrested in France, where he was trying to buy a false passport, in January 2013.

He was found to have two gold ingots, eight gold coins and 5,080 euros in cash in his possession.

Having recounted his adventures in Syria to a journalist for the Swiss paper Le Temps, he does not deny having gone there, although he denies taking part in fighting.

“The weapon was to defend myself, it’s quite reasonable,” he told the court, claiming that he did not fight but only took part in “surveillance”.

Djebbar, who has been in prison awaiting trial for 18 months, also admits planning to commit violent acts but claims to have changed, declaring that he was “lost and immature” and had “an erroneous idea of Islam”.

Sentence will be passed on 13 November.

Prosecutors are calling for Moreau, 27, to be jailed for seven years for plotting to prepare “terrorist acts” and his codefendant, Farid Djebbar, 26, who searched the internet for information on bomb-making and details of President François Hollande’s travels, for four, one of them suspended.

After a life of petty crime that had seen him convicted 13 times, Moreau says he converted to Islam when he was sharing a flat with a Muslim.

His behaviour attracted the attention of the authorities, particularly when, while in prison for theft and violence, he asked a physics teacher how to make a bomb.

In November 2012 he managed to enter Syria, buying a Kalashnikov assault rifle and ammunition and joining a jihadi unit in the Syrian town of Atbe.

Moreau only managed to stay in Atbe “about 10 days” because, he claims, smoking was banned by the jihadis and, although he had taken anti-smoking gum, he “had a lot of trouble not smoking”.

He returned briefly to France, intending to buy an electronic cigarette, and was then picked up by Turkish police while trying to get back into Syria.

His attempts to enter several countries, including Germany, Jordan, Israel, Tunisia, Britain, Lebanon and Bulgaria, were noted and French anti-terror investigators tapped his phone, leading them to Djebbar, whose computer showed traces of 870 internet searches for information on bomb-making, 367 for information on Al-Qaeda and two about how to meet Hollande.

Moreau was finally arrested in France, where he was trying to buy a false passport, in January 2013.

He was found to have two gold ingots, eight gold coins and 5,080 euros in cash in his possession.

Having recounted his adventures in Syria to a journalist for the Swiss paper Le Temps, he does not deny having gone there, although he denies taking part in fighting.

“The weapon was to defend myself, it’s quite reasonable,” he told the court, claiming that he did not fight but only took part in “surveillance”.

Djebbar, who has been in prison awaiting trial for 18 months, also admits planning to commit violent acts but claims to have changed, declaring that he was “lost and immature” and had “an erroneous idea of Islam”.

Sentence will be passed on 13 November.

The French Senate on Thursday approved a bill aiming to stop people leaving France to fight with armed groups in Syria.

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