Frenchman held in Bulgaria for Charlie Hebdo links 'not alone'

AFP , Friday 16 Jan 2015

A Frenchman arrested in Bulgaria for suspected ties to the Charlie Hebdo attackers was travelling with three other people who also allegedly knew the assailants, details from the arrest warrant showed Friday.

Fritz-Joly Joachin, 29, was arrested on January 1 trying to cross from EU member Bulgaria into Turkey by bus. He has admitted to being "old friends" with the Kouachi brothers -- who were shot dead by French police two days after they staged the January 7 Charlie Hebdo strike that left 12 people dead -- but he denies being an extremist.

According to details that emerged on Friday from a Bulgarian translation of his French arrest warrant, Muslim convert Joachin was travelling on the bus with three people, identified as Fehime Aksoy, Cheikhou Diakhaby and his girlfriend, Imane Chanaa,

Joachim and his companions all "had contacts with Cherif Kouachi, the attacker at Charlie Hebdo," the warrant said, adding that one of the trio was also sentenced in 2006 for illegally entering Iraq.

They also had purported links to the wife of a man jailed on charges of participating in a "terrorist" organisation. Chanaa, meantime, is the sister of Younes Chanaa, who was arrested for alleged participation in a network sending fighters to Syria, the warrant said.

Joachin was initially detained following claims by his wife that he had kidnapped their son.

But on Monday a second warrant was delivered linking Joachin to the Kouachi brothers, and accusing him "participation in an organised crime group whose aim was the organisation of terrorist acts."

Joachin's lawyer Radi Radev told AFP on Friday that his client was not involved in "terrorism," and was "surprised" by the claims made against him.

Interviewed by French TV channel France 2, Joachin said he had known the Kouachi brothers for around 10 years, used to play football with them and had a "business connection" to them.

"We sold clothes together, shoes, it was just a business connection," he said.

He said he was not aware that they were planning any attack.

A Bulgarian court on Friday postponed its ruling until January 20 on whether Joachin -- who was led into the hearing in Haskovo in southern Bulgaria in handcuffs by seven policemen in bullet-proof vests -- will be extradited to France.

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