French militant gets eight years behind bars

Le Guen was accused of taking part in the assault by AQIM on the town of Diabali in January 2013

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A French court on Friday sentenced a 60-year-old man to eight years behind bars for fighting alongside an al-Qaeda group in Mali.

The Paris criminal court handed down the sentence to Gilles Le Guen -- the first conviction under a law passed at the end of 2012 allowing authorities to prosecute those suspected of waging Jihad abroad.

Le Guen was accused of taking part in the assault by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on the town of Diabali in January 2013.

The former member of the French merchant navy was arrested by special forces in late April 2013. At the time, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described him as a “drop-out who became a terrorist”.

In October 2012, Le Guen appeared in traditional Muslim robes with a gun at his side in a video on a Mauritanian website in which he warned France, the United States and the United Nations against military intervention in Mali to drive Islamists from the country’s arid north.

France went on to launch and lead an operation to halt an advance by extremists on Bamako and drive them from Mali’s northern cities which they had controlled for about nine months.

Le Guen’s lawyer vowed to appeal the sentence.

“We’re in a situation where the courts cannot tell the difference between the different people who come before them,” said Alexandre Vermynck.

Le Guen, a former heroine addict with a drawn face, showed little emotion as the sentence was handed down.

During his trial, he said he converted to Islam in 1982 but was opposed to any “application of Sharia law in a tyrannical fashion.”

He said he had been “instrumentalized” by AQMI, whose members he described as “terrorists without anything to offer to the people.”

Despite voicing “religious admiration” for the later al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, whom he compared to Che Guevara, he said he was against hostage-taking, suicide attacks and declared himself “incapable of killing.”

Raised in a Catholic family, Le Guen converted to Islam at the age of 18 after a brief spell as a Hindu and “does not and will not pose -- when he gets out -- any danger for French and Western society,” said his lawyer.

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