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Paris trial opens for members of alleged jihadi network

Seven men who formed part of a group that included one of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks have gone on trial in France. They claim they went to Syria to do aid work and were coerced into joining "Islamic State."

Seven alleged members of the jihadist network that groomed at least one of the perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Paris last November went on trial on Monday. Among them was Karim Mohamed-Aggad, the brother of Foued Mohamed-Aggad, one of the suicide bombers who attacked the Bataclan theater.

The defendants, friends from the eastern city of Strasbourg, traveled to Syria at the end of 2013 and returned several months later. They all deny have fought as jihadists while they were there. They have claimed their trip was meant to be dedicated to humanitarian aid work, but that they got caught in jihadi crosshairs and were forced to join "Islamic State" (IS).

"We were had by smooth talk. Islam was used to trap me like a wolf. When we arrived there, it was clear to me that the people there had nothing to do with Islam," Karim Mohamed-Aggad told police, court documents revealed.

They told authorities that they participated in some training exercises and posed for propaganda photos, but never actually engaged in combat.

Lawyer: Defendants had broken with radical Islam

Foued Mohamed-Aggad went with the same group to Syria, but returned separately. While the others were detained by authorities in April 2014, Foued remained at large. On November 13, 2015 he was one of the terrorists who blew himself up inside the Bataclan concert hall, where 90 people lost their lives.

Defense lawyer Xavier Nogueras said it was important to differentiate between his clients and the Paris bombers.

"They came back before the others," Nogueras said, referencing the original group of ten, two of whom died in Syria. "They had completely broken with the idea of belonging to a radical ideology."

All seven, now between the ages of 24 and 27, are facing charges of criminal association for the purpose of committing acts of terrorism. If found guilty, they face up to ten years in prison.

es/rc (AP, AFP)

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