France arrests 'Islamist gang' over jail break plot
French police on Tuesday arrested 14 alleged Islamists suspected of plotting to spring the author of a bloody bomb attack on the Paris metro from jail, a judicial official said Tuesday.
Separately, the domestic intelligence service had earlier over the weekend picked up 12 more alleged Islamists, these being suspected of running a network funnelling French militants to fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Anti-terrorist police swooped on several addresses in Paris and its suburbs and in the central region of Cantal on Tuesday, the official said, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity.
The 14 are suspected of having planned to break out Smain Ait Ali Belkacem, an Algerian who was jailed for life in 2002 after being found guilty of a 1995 bomb attack on a Paris underground station which wounded 30 people.
One of those arrested was convicted militant Djamel Beghal, who was being held under house arrest in a residence in Cantal awaiting a ruling on an appeal against an order he be expelled from the country, the official said.
Beghal was arrested in 2001 as he returned to France after a period spent in militant training camps in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. He was tried on suspicion of planning attacks, notably against the US embassy in Paris.
He was stripped of his French nationality and sentenced to 10 years in jail. His wife and children live in Britain, but he has been fighting an order expelling him from France in the European court.
French investigators suspect a gang was planning to spirit him away from the hotel where he was living under tight surveillance, spring Belkacem from jail and smuggle both men out of the country.
No more details have been released at this stage, and under French terror laws both groups of suspects can be held for police questioning for up to four days before a magistrate has to rule on their continued detention.
© 2010 AFP