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French judge on terror trail

Convicting Carlos the Jackal was one of Bruguiere's most significant successes
Convicting Carlos the Jackal was one of Bruguiere's most significant successes  

By CNN's Mike Boettcher

PARIS, France (CNN) -- French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere has spent the past two decades fighting international war on terrorism.

Bruguiere has brought to book a series of militants, including the infamous Carlos the Jackal, and he warns more terrorist attacks are likely despite the military successes against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

The examining magistrate told CNN: "The target of terrorism is not to obtain money, but to destroy the structure of a state and a democracy."

The judge has extraordinary powers under French law to track down suspects with the help of domestic intelligence and police and then to prosecute and judge them.

Other people Bruguiere has convicted are the brother-in-law of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi for conspiring to blow up a French airliner in Africa, and a group of Algerian terrorists planning to disrupt the 1998 World Cup held in France.

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He has also been keeping tabs on Zacarias Moussaoui, now under indictment in the U.S. for allegedly being part of the September 11 attacks.

And he is looking into a thwarted possible strike on the U.S. embassy in Paris.

Judge Bruguiere's record is unparalleled, in terms of finding, investigating and jailing terrorists, with no peers in Europe and the U.S.. But he is not without his critics.

Antoine Bernard, of the International Federation of Human Rights, calls Bruguiere a "mediacrat" -- always ready to do his arrests in front of the camera.

Bernard said: "Rather than fighting for justices, it is a showing up, it is a show. This is not what is really needed to strongly fight terrorism."

He is especially critical of the World Cup arrests which saw 70 of the 138 people put on trial found not guilty.

Some of those charged even won monetary damages after being held for up to two years in pre-trial detention.

Bernard said: "When you get to nearly 40 percent of people whose life has been broken because of this kind of practice, this is not a success.

"We should not deny, however, there seems to have been terrorist attacks prevented through the actions of the police and anti-terrorism judges."

Bruguiere denied he casts his net too wide on occasion. "All the people we have arrested, we have good reason," he added.

A target himself

By carrying out such high-profile work Bruguiere has made himself a target for terrorists.

A hand-grenade and trip wire was set up at his apartment in 1997 to explode when he entered the front door, but a policeman discovered it 10 minutes ahead of Bruguiere's arrival.

Bruguiere has travelled with a bodyguard for years.

The judge has recently focused on Islamic terrorism first from Algeria and more recently Afghanistan.

He investigated Ahmed Ressam who was convicted for a plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport during the Millennium celebrations, even testifying against him.

Bruguiere says he has investigated hundreds of suspected terrorists and conducted 4,000 searches.

He believes al Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden are just part of a much wider international Islamic terror movement.

Terror groups: 'a virus'

He compares the cells making up this network to a virus...constantly mutating.

If bin Laden, the prime suspect for the September 11 strikes, is captured or killed, the problem is not over, contrary to some public opinion in the U.S., Bruguiere said.

"We know that the threat is larger and when al Qaeda is destroyed, there are a lot of people scattered around Europe and the world who are not really connected with al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, but who share the same task, jihad, and continue the fight against the West, especially the US.," he added.

Of particular concern to the judge is a sect he calls Taqfir which allows its members to issue Fatwas against their enemies including fellow Muslims.

Its members are encouraged to blend in to society, much in the way the September 11 hijackers did.

"They are generally, good-looking tie, jacket. Some have the right to drink alcohol," the judge said.

He said Mohamed Atta, one of the pilots believed to have flown a plane into the World Trade Center, could be a member of this group.

The horror of what happened in New York and Washington has convinced Bruguiere to continue his fight against terrorism.

He said: "I think I have a chance to be involved in that and I am very proud to be involved in this big stake."




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