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A 29-year-old Algerian man went on trial in Paris on Monday, accused of killing a woman and trying to blow up a church near Paris, in a failed 2015 attack that investigators say was orchestrated by Islamic State extremists in Syria.
According to investigators, Sid Ahmed Ghlam had to abort his attempted bombing of a Sunday Mass in the Parisian suburb of Villejuif in April 2015 after he shot himself in the leg and called the emergency services, leading to his arrest.
The incident came amid a series of Islamist extremist attacks in 2015-2016 that rocked France. Ghlam’s trial opens as another Paris court holds a two-month trial into the January 2015 attacks that killed 17 people at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher.
Ghlam, who faces life in prison if convicted, denies wrongdoing, claiming instead that he thwarted the attack.
Nine other defendants, including two possibly dead
Nine other defendants will be tried alongside him. Seven are believed to have provided logistical assistance such as weapons and protective vests.
The other two are extremists accused of guiding his attempted attack, who are believed to be in Syria and possibly dead. A third sponsor, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed by police after allegedly coordinating the worst attacks on France since World War II, including the November 13, 2015 attacks on the Bataclan concert hall, the Stade de France and multiple cafes in Paris.
Ghlam had been on the radar of authorities in Algeria and France for his proximity to the Islamic State (IS) group. Investigators say he traveled to Turkey in late 2014 and early 2015 where he met Abaaoud and the other operatives.
On April 19, 2015, policewoman Aurélie Chatelain was shot to death in her car, which had been set on fire, near a church in Villejuif.
Soon afterward, Ghlam called for help, claiming to have been the victim of gunfire near his home, in the 13th arrondissement or district of Paris, not far from Villejuif. Doctors notified police.
Police believe Ghlam shot Chatelain and was in fact planning to carry out an attack against the Villejuif church. According to investigators, Ghlam had to give up attacking the church after accidentally shooting himself in the leg while trying to put his weapon back in his belt.
Frequent links to Syria
But Ghlam told investigators that he intentionally shot himself in the thigh, having second thoughts about carrying out the planned massacre. He says the policewoman was accidentally killed by an accomplice named “Hamza.” None of the other suspects has mentioned this supposed accomplice.
Many weapons were found in his car and at home, and his computers showed frequent links to Syria. Ghlam acknowledged to investigators having been in contact and guided by three IS operatives: Abaaoud, Abdelnasser Benyoucef and Samir Nouad.
Benyoucef is also the alleged sponsor of Amédy Coulibaly, gunman who killed many in the January 2015 kosher supermarket attack and in Montrouge. Benyoucef and Nouad, a member of Algerian Islamist militant group GIA in the 1990s, are believed to have died in suicide attacks in Syria. They are nevertheless being tried in absentia in the Villejuif case.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)