SOFIA/HASKOVO, Bulgaria (Reuters) - Bulgaria will extradite a Frenchman who was a business partner of the two brothers who shot dead 12 people at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris, a court said on Tuesday.
Fritz-Joly Joachin has acknowledged his connections to the brothers and even played football with them, but he denies being part of an Islamist militant group. He is ready to be extradited to France to prove his innocence, his lawyer said.
Joachin, a 29-year-old Muslim convert of Haitian origin, was arrested by Bulgarian police on Jan. 1, before the Paris attack, at a border checkpoint when he tried to cross into Turkey.
He was initially held on a European arrest warrant that alleged he had abducted his three-year-old son and was likely to take him to Syria - an accusation he denies.
A second European arrest warrant later alleged Joachin had participated in a criminal group that plotted acts of terrorism, for which he could face 10 years in prison.
It also says Joachin, a construction worker with no previous criminal convictions, was traveling with a man allegedly part of a Islamist network in Paris. Also with them was the sister of a man in jail for being part of a network that sent fighters to Syria, the warrant said.
A prosecutor in the southern town of Haskovo told reporters after a short court hearing that Joachin would be extradited within 10 days, but it could come much sooner.
“He can be even extradited tomorrow,” Darina Slavova said.
Seventeen people were killed in Paris in three days of violence that began with the storming of the offices of Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7 by the brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi. The brothers were shot dead by French security forces after they took refuge in a print works outside Paris.
“He does not deny that he had contacts with Kouachi brothers,” Joachin’s Bulgarian lawyer, Radi Radev, said. “He said he contacted one of the brothers in July.”
“But he says he had no idea what they were engaged in. According to him, they were business partners and they have played football together.”
Editing by Matthias Williams and Alison Williams