French court convicts three who tried to join ‘militants’ in Syria

A Paris court on Friday sentenced three men to prison terms of up to five years for trying to join the rebellion in Syria, the first such convictions in France.

The three men — Youssef Ettaoujar, 26; Fares Farsi, 21; and Salah-Eddine Gourmat, 24 — were apprehended at the airport in St.-Etienne in central France in May 2012 as they were boarding a flight to Gaziantep, Turkey, a border city 60 miles from Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.

All three are Muslims who were living in working-class neighborhoods of Paris or its suburbs. Under a law enacted in 2012, they were charged with criminal association with the intent to commit terrorist acts.

Mr. Ettaoujar, said to be the group’s leader, was given a five-year prison sentence, with the fifth year suspended, meaning that he will not have to serve it in prison. Mr. Gourmat was sentenced to four years, also with one year suspended. Mr. Farsi, a former athlete who acknowledged that the three men intended to join militants fighting in Syria, was sentenced to four years with two years suspended. The prosecution had asked for sentences from three to six years.

Mr. Farsi’s lawyer, Matthieu de Vallois, denounced the court’s verdicts, saying, “Radicalization doesn’t necessarily mean terrorist intention.”