The trial of Willie Brigitte finished overnight in Paris with the defendant proclaiming his innocence. According to his defence lawyer Jean-Claude Durimel there's no proof he was involved in any terrorist plots in Australia. Brigitte is charged under French law of "associating with criminals in relation to a terrorist enterprise" and could face ten years if convicted.
Brigitte has been held in a French prison since he was deported from Australia in 2003. At the time authorities accused him of being the most dangerous Al Qaeda link so far uncovered in Australia. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock accused Brigitte of coming to Australia with a purpose to cause harm. Brigitte was suspected of plotting terror against a variety of targets including the electricity grid and the Lucas Heights nuclear research reactor.
Brigitte was born on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. His parents are middle-class. His father is an engineer; his mother works in a pharmacy, his brother is a philosophy teacher. Willie Brigitte was not brought up a Muslim. Brigitte travelled to Paris for his final year of schooling, living here with his aunt, but did not sit the baccalaureate. Instead he joined the navy, where he stayed three years, and was twice found guilty of deserting. Aged 30 he converted to Islam and adopted the name Abderrahman and rented a butcher’s shop where he sold halal meat.
Brigitte attended a mosque in Paris where he studied the Koran and learned Arabic. Here he forged links with a radical Algerian faction, the Salafist Group to Call and Combat (GSPC). French security services had the GPSC under surveillance since the 1995 Paris Metro bombing which claimed 11 lives. Brigitte was trained with what were called 'the camper group' as they did strenuous camping trips to assess their fitness as jihadi fighters.
After 9/11 the French realised that several members of the camper group were reappearing as Taliban fighters. Brigitte also attempted to go to Afghanistan but couldn’t cross the closed border from Pakistan. Instead he spent four months in a Lashkar-e-Toiba training camp in the mountains of the Punjab. Here Brigitte did explosives training and made new contacts including Sajid Mir, the LeT operative responsible for managing foreigners. After returning to France, Sajid paid 3,500 euros for Brigitte to go to Australia.
He arrived in Australia in May 2003. Brigitte’s lawyers claim it was to start a new life. Sajid gave him a letter of introduction to Sydney man Abu Hamzu (aka Faheem Lodhi). Brigitte lodged with Hamzu and found work at a Sydney halal restaurant. Brigitte met Melanie Brown, a recent convert to Islam. Keen to stay in the country, he married her at Lakemba mosque just ten days after they first met. She was unaware this was his third marriage. Meanwhile the French were tracking him down. They were aware of “Mohammed Abderrahman” from the camping group, but had only just found out Abderrahman was Brigitte. They sent a request to ASIO for information about his current whereabouts.
ASIO did not act until they got a second request 10 days later. They arrested Brigitte at work and held at Villawood Detention Centre for working in breach of his tourist visa. They quickly and quietly deported Brigitte and sent a bill for $15,000 to his wife for the cost of his detention and deportation. They then turned their attentions to Hamzu. They filmed Hamzu dumping material in a bin which turned out to be the layout of various Sydney military facilities. When the news of Brigitte’s deporting leaked from France, Australian police were forced to move.
Hamzu was charged with terrorist offences in October 2003. Authorities discovered he had made discreet inquiries under an assumed name for large quantities of fertiliser which could be used to make explosives. Hamzu was found guilty of three out of four charges of terrorism. He was the first person to be charged under the new Anti-Terror laws and in 2006 he was sentenced to maximum 20 years, with a minimum 15 years to be served.
However Hamzu’s sentence is now called into doubt by current developments with Brigitte. The former French intelligence security Chief Alain Chouet, has called the charges against Willie Brigitte "weak" and that Brigitte is a "person without importance whom the Australian authorities continue to play on to create fear.” Hamzu’s conviction was partly based on his association with Brigitte. Buoyed by the Chouet statement, Brigitte’s team are now confident of victory. Brigitte’s lawyer said “The Australians have nothing against him. If the Australians wanted him, they would've kept him. They sent him here because he had the wrong visa”.
Brigitte’s verdict will be handed down on 15 March.