The judge handed down sentences of up to seven years in prison. The suspects — five Frenchmen, a Moroccan and an Algerian — were convicted of "criminal association with a terrorist enterprise," a blanket charge used in many French terrorist cases that carries a maximum 10-year prison term.
Most acknowledged going to Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, or planning to go, but all denied involvement in a cell accused of recruiting French fighters for Iraq's insurgency.
The men went on trial in March after years of investigation by French authorities. The case struck a nerve because it demonstrated how young devout Muslim Frenchmen were abandoning what they saw as bleak prospects in secular France for Iraqi battlefields. It also raised fears that French fighters could use those battlefield skills in terror attacks back home in Europe.
France strongly opposed the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq but has struggled to fight homegrown terrorism. France is home to western Europe's largest Muslim population: about 5 million people.
Investigators said the alleged network funneled about a dozen French fighters to camps linked to the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. They say the network sought to send more recruits before al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006. At least seven French insurgents have died in Iraq, some in suicide bombings, police said.
The man accused of being the cell's ringleader, 27-year-old Farid Benyettou, was sentenced to six years in prison.
Judge Jacqueline Rebeyrotte's ruling called Benyettou "the ideologue and one of the organizers of a group whose objective was to send young people from the 19th arrondissement of Paris to fight in Iraq."
The men were accused of links to the "19th Arrondissement Network," named for the Paris district where it was based. The district is a diverse, working-class neighborhood, home to many Muslim families with roots in former French colonies in North Africa.
The judge said Benyettou recruited young men for jihad, or holy war, through his religious teachings and by arranging weapons training and travel through Syria to get to Iraq.
Boubakeur el-Hakim, whose brother was killed in Iraq and who urged his Paris neighbors to go to Iraq in a French radio interview from Baghdad in 2003, was given a seven-year sentence, as was Moroccan Said Abdellah.
The judge sentenced Algerian Nacer Mettai, accused of forging documents for potential fighters, to four years in prison.
The three others — Mohammed el-Ayouni, Thamer Bouchnak and Cherif Kouachi — were given three-year sentences, 18 months of which were suspended. El-Ayouni lost an arm and an eye in Iraq's battlefields, while Bouchnak and Kouachi were arrested days before they planned to travel to Syria in January 2005, allegedly to train for Iraq.
One of the defense lawyers, Martin Pradel, called the sentences "extremely severe." It was not immediately clear if there would be any appeals.
Source: IHT (English)
See also: Return of jihadists (from Iraq): Europe's fears subside, France: Extremists Dream of Jihad in Iraq, Paris: al-Qaeda Iraq recruiting network trial