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'IS' member Benghalem sentenced to 15 years in absentia in France

A French member belonging to the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) jihadist group was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison. Salim Benghalem reportedly kept ties to the Charlie Hebdo attackers and other extremists.

A Paris court sentenced 35-year-old Salim Benghalem, who stood accused of having recruited French nationals to join IS in Syria, to 15 years in prison. The trial took place with Benghalem in absentia, as he is believed to have reportedly been living in Syria and fighting alongside IS rebels since 2013.

Benghalem's wife, who left Syria with their children, told investigators that he would return to France only to carry out attacks and not to stand trial. The trial started in early December 2015 in the shadow of the November 13 Paris attacks, which killed 130 people. Thursday's verdict coincided with the

first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks

as French President

Francois Hollande unveiled new anti-terror measures.

An international arrest warrant had been issued prior to the trial. Benghalem is one of the most wanted individuals by French security forces and is also on US watch lists.

Charlie Hebdo attacks and anniversary

Salim Benghalem is said to have had links to Charlie Hebdo attackers Cherif and Said Kouachi as well as to Amedy Coulibaly, who carried out an attack on a Jewish kosher supermarket three days after the attack on the French satirical magazine.

In video footage dated February 2015, Benghalem praised the three attackers and incited jihadists to partake in further violent attacks.

Further convictions

Six further alleged IS foreign fighters meanwhile were given sentences of between six and nine years. During their trial, the men had attempted to minimize their association with IS, some claiming that they had been to Syria to do humanitarian work only. The defendants reportedly portrayed themselves as being unaware of the full gravity of their actions.

ss/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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