Paris bomb suspect goes on trial amid allegations of police torture

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The Independent Online

An alleged terrorist who spent 10 years awaiting extradition from Britain appeared in court in Paris yesterday in a trial which may be a crucial test of France's anti-terrorist police.

Rachid Ramda, 36, who was extradited from Britain in December, is accused of acting as banker for a series of bombings of the Paris Metro by Islamist fundamentalists in 1995.

His return to France was delayed by courts in Britain because of evidence presented by his lawyers that confessions had been extracted from other suspects in the course of beatings by French police. This evidence was largely ignored by the French media at the time, but fresh allegations of beatings, and torture, by the anti-terrorism squad surfaced in a book by three French journalists this month.

M. Ramda's lawyer, Benoît Dietsch, asked for his trial to be delayed until after an internal police investigation into the torture allegations. A trial of two alleged Corsican terrorists collapsed last week because of concerns about the reliability of evidence from the same squad.

The court was expected to reject the request for an adjournment. The hearing which began yesterday is the lesser of two trials faced by M. Ramda this year. But the allegations against the police could influence the outcome of both trials.

M. Ramda, in a statement to the court, rejected the trial as "scandalous". He insisted he was innocent, expressed his sympathy to the families of the bomb victims and asked for permission to make no further appearances in court. He also said he had asked his lawyers not to present any more evidence in his defence.

Dressed in a tracksuit, M. Ramda gave his address as "Belmarsh prison" in London and said he was a "student of English literature, philosophy and journalism".

The prosecution claims that M. Ramda, from London, provided funds for the Metro bombers, acting for an Algerian Islamist movement, the Armed Islamic Groups. The bloodiest attack, on 25 July 1995, killed eight people at the Saint Michel RER (regional metro) station and injured 150. Two people died in later attacks and many were injured.

Lawyers for a pressure group, SOS Terrorism, set up after the 1995 bombings, rejected suggestions the trial should be postponed. They said there was evidence that M. Ramda had been in contact with the bombers and had sent money.