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Former far-left armed group leader in court for 'condoning' Paris attacks

Former Action Directe leader Jean-Marc Rouillan in Marseille in 2012
Former Action Directe leader Jean-Marc Rouillan in Marseille in 2012 Reuters/Philippe Laurenson

The former head of a French far-left armed group was to appear in court Thursday, charged with "condoning terrorism" after he described the 13 November Paris attackers as "brave". Jean-Marc Rouillan, who is out on parole from a life sentence for two murders in 1989, claims he was making a "technical" remark and did not endorse the attackers' ideas or actions.

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The case arises from an interview Rouillan gave to a local radio station, associated with satirical paper Ravi, in the southern city of Marseille.

In it he commented on the Paris attacks when 130 people were killed by armed Islamists and  many more injured.

"I found them very brave," he said. "They fought very bravely. They fight on the streets of Paris, they know that there are 2-3,000 cops around."

But he went on to oppose their "theocratic" ideas.

"You can say plenty of things about them - that you're absolutely against their reactionary ideas, that it's stupid to do that - but not that they are cowardly kids," he declared.

Victims' group protests

The remarks set off a storm and led victims' support organisation AFVT to lodge a legal complaint and prosecutors to open an investigation for condoning terrorism.

"These statements are an offence to the memory of the victims and an additional injury to the families who have already suffered a great deal," was Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve's reaction.

Rouillan hit back by claiming that he had "only said that to get themselves killed for their ideas took courage", describing his remarks as a "technical approach to struggle, not at all an approval of what they do".

Action Directe - 80 attacks in eight years

Rouillan was sentenced to life in jail in 1989 for his part in two murders - of top defence ministry official General René Audran in 1985 and Renault boss Georges Besse in 1986.

They were attributed to Action Directe, a small far-left armed group along the lines of Italy's Red Brigades, of which Rouillan was one of the leaders.

It claimed responsibility for more than 80 attempted assassinations or other attacks between 1979 and 1987, when the last of its members still at liberty were arrested.

Rouillan, who has never renounced his commitment to the group, was released on bail in 2007 but sent back to jail in 2008 for breaching its terms by commenting on his past activities.

He was released on bail again in 2011 and puts in appearances at far-left events as well as in a libertarian film, Faut savoir se contenter de beaucoup (You have to be happy with a lot).

To read our coverage of the Paris attacks, click here

To read our coverage of the January 2014 Charlie Hebdo attacks, click here

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