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Al Qaeda website is focus of French trial

Romain Letellier could face five  years in prison.

Romain Letellier could face five years in prison.

PARIS — A Frenchman who operated what prosecutors described as an Al Qaeda propaganda website went on trial Tuesday on charges of defending and promoting terrorism.

It was the first test of a 2012 law outlawing
‘‘cyberjihad’’ in response to attacks by a radical Islamist who killed seven people in the south of France.

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Romain Letellier has been jailed since his arrest in September in the Calvados region of Normandy. The 27-year-old, who had adopted the pseudonym Abou Siyad al-Normandy, faces up to five years in prison if he is convicted.

His long hair pulled back tightly and a thick beard reaching to his chest, Letellier on Tuesday acknowledged acting as an administrator for the site Ansar al-Haqq, which the prosecutor said had 4,000 members.

Letellier said he never intended to incite anyone to violence. He faces charges for translating and disseminating Al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine as well as for his administration of the site. But he told the judge that he withheld information on sabotage.

‘‘Because then you could really think that we were inciting people technically to do something,’’ Letellier said in court.

No attacks are linked to the site.

French security officials have focused on Internet forums and online activity since the March 2012 killings in the south of France in a series of shootings by Mohammed Merah. He died in a shootout with police after killing seven people and wounding another five.

Letellier acknowledged that he had posted the translations of two issues of Inspire.

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