Paris: One said he couldn’t afford the bullets to load his gun in Syria, while another compared carrying a Kalashnikov to wearing a superhero costume.
Most of the six men on trial in Paris for their alleged roles in a recruiting network for European Islamic extremist fighters portray themselves as amateur holy warriors grappling with a conflict way over their heads.
The central figure in the weeklong trial that closes on today is 35-year-old Salim Benghalem, a suspected Islamic State group commander wanted by the US and France.
He is believed to be in Syria and is being judged in absentia.
Benghalem’s wife, who left Syria with their children, has told investigators he would return to France only to carry out attacks not stand trial – aiming for “a series of killings.”
The trial was being held in the aftermath of the November 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 people, stunned France and sent Europe into a state of high alert.
The six French nationals present in court, sought to present themselves as far less committed to jihad than Benghalem.
Four described themselves in testimony last week as naive about the situation in Syria during the time they spent there in 2013.
The group played soccer together as children in the town of Thiais, just south of Paris, hung out as adolescents in school, or simply met on the journey to radicalization.
After mostly brief stays in Syria, they all testified that they wanted to go home.
The men minimized their roles with extremist groups, with some claiming that they went to Syria to do humanitarian work and had no role in fighting.
Five of the six went to the northern city of Aleppo, dominated by rebels.
Abdelmalek Tanem, 26, an alleged recruiter, spent a full 18 months in Syria, from the end of 2012 until the spring of 2014, saying he helped French jihadis get to the Turkish border with Syria.
He pledged allegiance first to the Nusra Front, an offshoot of al-Qaida, then to the rival Islamic State group, and said he left Syria because of the infighting among the groups.
He was arrested in Spain in April 2014 as he tried to make his way to Algeria.
Investigators, using phone taps, established a clear working relationship between Tanem and Benghalem.
Tanem “is the most implicated of the six,” prosecutor Arnaud Faugere said.