France sentences recruiter of Syria jihadists to 3 years

The only trace of Algerian Said Arif since his flight was a photo of the car he stole in 2012 to flee

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An Islamist militant considered one of the main recruiters of foreigners to the jihadist fight against government forces in Syria was convicted in absentia to three years in prison in France on Wednesday.

Algerian Said Arif, who was previously convicted in 2007 in France for terrorist-related activities, was sentenced to three years in prison by a court in central France for crimes stemming from his flight from house arrest in January 2012.

Arif, who has a heady record of terror-associated activity stretching back to a thwarted attack on the Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg in December 2000, was arrested in Damascus in 2003 and extradited to France to face charges for several planned strikes.

Sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2007 for those offences, Arif was released to house arrest in 2011, but bolted the following year and has remained at large ever since.

"According to witnesses questioned as part of the investigation, Said Arif may currently be in Syria," a French judicial official said.

The only trace of Arif since his flight was a photo of the car he stole in 2012 to flee, taken by a highway camera set off in May 2013 by his speeding in northwest France.

In addition to being sought by France, Arif was added by the United Nations to its list of sanctioned extremists in August.

The same month, the U.S. State Department classified him as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist for his activity with the Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda-linked militia in Syria.

Two warrants – one European, the other international – have been issued for his arrest.

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