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Security tight for al Qaeda trial

Anti-terrorist barriers
Concrete barriers have been placed round the court to thwart terrorist attacks  

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Huge security is in place for the start of a trial in Germany of five men with suspected links to the al Qaeda terror network.

Concrete blocks have been put in place on the main street outside of the state court building in Germany's financial capital to thwart any potential attacks during the trial, due to begin on Tuesday.

Judges and staff had a request turned down for the case to be moved to a high-security court in Stuttgart.

The trial of the five Algerian men has attracted international attention because of the al Qaeda element.

Four of them face charges of planning to bomb a Christmas market in France in December 2000. All five are charged with "membership of a terrorist group."

The five allegedly trained in camps in Afghanistan from 1998.

Germany became a focus of the investigation into al Qaeda cells after it emerged that three of the hijackers involved in the September 11 attacks had studied for years in the northern city of Hamburg.

There is, however, no evidence so far to link the men who go on trial on Tuesday with the U.S. attacks, prosecuting lawyers told Reuters.

Prosecutors said four of the men planned to set off a bomb at a Christmas market in December 2000 in the French city of Strasbourg, near the German border. Police foiled the plan when they detained the men on December 26, 2000 in Frankfurt.

The four allegedly had a cache of weapons, ammunition and explosives for the attack and also had contacts with similar extremists in Britain and Italy.

Prosecutors said police searching the Frankfurt apartment used by the suspects found large quantities of chemicals for making explosives as well as detonators, 11 shotguns and an array of false identity papers.

Prosecutors have identified the men as Lamine Maroni, Aeurobui Beandali, Salim Boukhari, Samir Karimou and Fouhad Sabour, who also holds French citizenship.

Samir Karimou was arrested later and does not face charges related to the bomb plot.

But the real identity of at least one of the suspects remains confused. Lawyer Achim Groepper, who represents Beandali, said it was unclear whether that was his client's real name.

He told Reuters that Beandali, who insists he is not connected to al Qaeda, would testify at the proceedings, whereas his fellow accused are expected to remain silent.

"He will testify to each of the accusations and I think there will also be a surprise tomorrow," he told Reuters, without elaborating further.

Since the September 11 attacks which Washington blames on Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, Germany has launched its biggest ever post-war investigation to track down suspects with links to the group. There have been a number of arrests since, but none has resulted in charges.

In January, German Interior Minister Otto Schily said police were pursuing up to 20,000 leads on possible al Qaeda networks in the country.

Denying the request of a move of the trial to Stuttgart, a federal court ruled earlier this month that there was no evidence that authorities in Frankfurt could not ensure safe proceedings.


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