A Bulgarian court ruled Tuesday that a Frenchman who admits knowing the Charlie Hebdo attackers but denies being an Islamic extremist could be extradited to France following an arrest warrant issued by Paris.
Muslim convert Fritz-Joly Joachin, 29, arrested on January 1 as he tried to cross from Bulgaria into Turkey, told the court in Haskovo in southern Bulgaria: "I am innocent. I want to return to France."
Joachin, of Haitian origin, has admitted to being "old friends" with the Kouachi brothers who shot dead 12 people in Paris on January 7 in an attack on the Paris offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.
Last week he said he used to play football with the brothers and had a "business connection" selling clothes but denied knowing about their plans to launch an Islamist attack.
According to the arrest warrant issued by French authorities, Joachin was travelling on a bus with three other people who knew the Kouachis when he was arrested. They were allowed to continue travelling into Turkey.
One of them, Cheikhou Diakhaby, was however arrested in Turkey on January 2 on the basis of a French warrant and will be extradited back to France "in a few days", a source told AFP.
Diakhaby was captured while fighting against US forces in Iraq in 2004 and spent seven years behind bars there before being sent back to France in 2011.
Judge Stratimir Dimitrov told the court in Bulgaria that Joachin "will remain under arrest until his final transfer to the French authorities" and that "the ruling is final".
His lawyer Radi Radev told journalists that he expects that the extradition would take place "without any delay. Maybe within 24 hours."
Joachin was again brought to court by several policemen and in handcuffs.
He told AFP after the hearing: "Yes, I am happy to be returning to France."
Asked if he was afraid that he might be convicted, he shook his head and said: "No".