PARIS (AP) — Members of a radical Islamic group went on trial Monday in Paris after French prosecutors alleged they planned terror attacks similar to those on a kosher grocery and a satirical newspaper that left 17 victims dead in January.
Mohamed Achamlane, the leader of Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride), was among the 15 group members on trial. Two of the 15 were absent Monday, including a minor to be tried in juvenile court.
The group was dismantled amid a crackdown on radicals shortly after a 2012 killing spree in southern France by Mohamed Merah, who attacked a Jewish school and soldiers, killing seven people before being gunned down by police.
Achamlane was arrested in the western city of Nantes. He and others are charged with criminal association with the aim of preparing terrorist acts.
At the time of their arrests, Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said Forsane Alizza members received physical training in the parks and forests around Paris and religious indoctrination "in order to take part in a jihad." The group preached hate and violence on their Internet site which "called for an Islamic caliphate in France, the application of Sharia (law) and incited Muslims to unite to prepare for civil war," Molins said.
A computer file marked "targets" of Forsane Alizza listed multiple kosher groceries and the magazine Charlie Hebdo, scenes of the January attacks that left 20 dead, including the three gunmen.
Achamlane denounced the attacks from his jail cell in a letter to investigators and said he had nothing to do with them, according to court documents. There are no known links between the group and the January attackers.
A lawyer for the group, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, said on the iTele TV station the trial "risks hurting freedom of expression" because issues concerning Muslims can be associated with terrorism.