Two Algerians convicted of plot to fund terrorists

British court sentences illegal immigrants with ties to al-Qaida to 11 years


LONDON - Two illegal immigrants from Algeria were convicted yesterday of plotting to raise money for terror groups that British police said included al-Qaida.

Brahim Benmerzouga, 31, and Baghdad Meziane, 31, were found guilty after a five-day jury trial in Leicester Crown Court. Each was sentenced to 11 years in prison. They are the first people in Britain to be found guilty of being part of the al-Qaida network.

The two had been arrested by anti-terror police in an early morning raid on their home in the Midlands city two weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Police also captured Kamal Daoudi, who is accused of being an explosives and computer expert for al-Qaida and of helping to plan an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Paris. He was extradited to France, where he awaits trial on terrorism charges with another al-Qaida suspect, Djamel Beghal.

The court heard that Benmerzouga and Meziane had helped run an international credit card fraud intended to raise money for terror organizations such as al-Qaida. The two men worked together in a local factory and used numerous false identities to hide their connection to terror cells across Europe.

Benmerzouga possessed more than 60 films promoting suicide bombings and "martyrdom," including 19 copies of a videotape of Osama bin Laden.

Meziane had an elaborate forger's kit, terror camp recruitment material and a book titled A Biography of the Freedom Fighter, Osama bin Laden. Coded information relating to the Sept. 11 attacks was found on his computer.

In the apartment, police also discovered e-mail messages that talked of prices for "washed" and "unwashed" clothes, which were thought to refer to doctored travel documents.

Benmerzouga and Meziane collected the names and credit details of nearly 200 bank accounts on computer disks, which were found in their home and car. Other military training equipment and battlefield communications gear were also uncovered.

Both men had confessed to forgery charges but had pleaded not guilty to "entering into a funding arrangement for the purposes of terrorism," the charge under which they were sentenced yesterday.

Sentencing them, Judge Richard Herbert Curtis said: "I appreciate that each of you has not personally injured anyone. You have both been convicted by the unanimous verdict of the jury of conspiracy to defraud in respect to banks and credit card companies, and entering into a funding arrangement for the purposes of terrorism.

"You have not directly taken life or seriously injured anyone, but the terrorists, in order to carry out their terrible killings and maimings, need money, false papers and military-style materials.

"You both provided terrorists with the vital support and ran a well-organized and secretive cell."

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