French authorities filed preliminary terrorism charges last week against a wanted Frenchman extradited from Bulgaria, who admitted his connection to the gunmen behind the terrorist massacres in Paris.
Fritz-Joly Joachin, 29, was arrested Jan. 1 on an unrelated warrant while trying to cross from Bulgaria into Turkey. Police say that he was an associate of the Kouachi brothers, who killed 12 people in a Jan. 7 attack at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper.
Joachin is accused of participating in an organized terrorist crime group, and having links to a network feeding extremist fighters to Syria. After arriving in France last Thursday, Jan. 29, he was ordered jailed for at least four months pending further investigation, officials said.
Facing French judges, Joachin said that he had been heading to Turkey for vacation purposes, not to join the extremist groups, and had a job waiting for him back in France, according to an anonymous source.
He acknowledged his connections to the brothers, even admitting to playing football with them, but he denied being part of any Islamist militant group.
The case against Joachin is separate from the investigation into the terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine as well as a kosher supermarket in Paris. Authorities are trying to determine whether the gunmen involved in both attacks were working together as part of a broader terrorist network.
The gunmen, Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly, were killed in police raids shortly after the Paris shootings, on Jan. 9. Coulibaly, who proclaimed his allegiance to militant group ISIS, had been wearing a GoPro camera during his attack on a Jewish kosher market. He was able to use a computer to email a copy of the attack video before he was killed, leading officials to believe he was connected with other terrorist accomplices.
Coulibaly’s widow girlfriend, Hayat Boumeddiene, is on France’s most-wanted list, and is believed to have played a key role in the attack plans. Boumeddiene suspisciously fled to Syria days before Coulibaly’s deadly attack on the kosher supermarket.
French authorities have handed four others preliminary charges on suspicion of links to the attackers. Extremist groups like ISIS have reportedly been attracting aspiring fighters from around the world, including a growing number of radicalized women.
In Belgium, security forces thwarted what they said was a major terror attack against police with raids on Jan. 15, which left two suspects dead. A suspect believed linked to that case was extradited from Greece to Belgium on Thursday. Belgian authorities said the suspect was officially charged with participation in a terrorist group.
European governments have also been on alert for potential attacks by Islamic extremists, in the tense weeks following the deadly shootings.
(With reports from Associated Press, Washington Post, KTLA5, Reuters)