#UK Trial for ranking French IS fighter in recruiting network

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PARIS (AP) — Accused of running a network to recruit French extremists to fight in Syria, designated a terrorist by the United States and a fugitive by his homeland, Salim Benghalem promised to return to France only to carry out an attack “with a maximum of damage.”

Benghalem, who went on trial in absentia on Tuesday along with six men in France, is believed to be in Syria. Less than three weeks after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, tensions remained high at the city’s main courthouse. Benghalem, who has featured repeatedly in Islamic State propaganda, is accused of running a network considered a major French source of European fighters.

His wife, who left Syria with their children, has told investigators that he would return to France only to carry out an attack. She has said he believed bombs were not enough, that “a series of killings is recommended.” Benghalem, 35, has been linked with Cherif Kouachi, who along with his brother attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in the January attacks that left a total of 17 people dead.

The U.S. State Department has called him an executioner for Islamic State and in 2014 listed him as a Foreign Terrorist Fighter.

A lawyer for one of the men on trial with Benghalem said he feared the others, many of whom spent only a short time in Syria before returning, can no longer get a fair trial in France.

“There is a context with the events of the past days that will no doubt influence this long hearing and maybe will have an impact on the serenity required for a ruling,” said Xavier Nogueras, a lawyer for Karim Hadjidj. He said Hadjidj spent 10 days in Syria in 2013, at a time when France itself had been calling unsuccessfully for military intervention against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

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