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French Islamist group leader jailed for nine years

Forsane Alizza Mohamed Achamlane in Paris in 2012
Forsane Alizza Mohamed Achamlane in Paris in 2012 AFP

The leader of a French Islamist group has been jailed for nine years for terrorism-related offences, although his group committed no attacks. Thirteen other members of the group Forsanne Alizza (Knights of Pride), which was banned in 2012, were given sentences ranging from a year suspended to six years in jail.

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A Paris court sentenced Mohamed Achamlane, 37, to nine years in prison after finding him guilty of "criminal association with a terrorist group".

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Thirteen of the 14 other defendants, all of whom were arrested in 2012 following Mohammed Merah's killing spree in the Toulouse region, were also found guilty and sentenced.

The trial came after January'sCharlie Hebdo attacks that left 17 dead and as Yassin Salhi beheaded his former boss and left his head on the fence of a gas plant surrounded by Islamist flags.

Salhi has been found to have had contact with a member of Forsane Alizza.

Achamlane claimed that the group had no "terrorist inspiration", saying that it wanted to "channel the energy" of Muslims worried by mounting Islamophobia in France.

But prosecutors said that arms had been seized in raids on premises associated with the organisation that it had carried out physical training that implied it was planning violence.

They also cited files explaining how to make explosives found on Achamlane's computer, inflammatory statements about "scarring France" and a list of Jewish businesses in the Paris area - for the purposes of a boycott, according to Achamlane, as targets of violent attacks, such as Amedy Coulibaly's January murders, according to the prosecution.

Achamlane, who denied being anti-Semitic, said that videos of him speaking in front of a wall full of Kalashnikov assault rifles were "provocative" but not a call to terror.

Defence lawyer Berenger Tourne argued that the sentence was too harsh for people "with no blood on their hands" and that Achamlane was a scapegoat for public unease about radical Islam.

"Terrorism does not begin with the action being committed," said one of the prosecuting lawyers, Antoine Casubolo Ferro, adding that there was a clear plan to take violent action.

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