French arrest 12 in anti-terror raids amid attack warnings

5th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

French police arrested 12 people and seized guns Tuesday in anti-terror raids that came as Western security officials warn that Al-Qaeda may be planning Mumbai-style attacks in Europe.

Police from France's anti-terrorism squad made nine arrests in the southern port of Marseille and in nearby Avignon, police sources said.

They seized "some weapons, including a Kalashnikov (rifle) and a pump-action shotgun, as well as ammunition," said one official, adding that the nine were being investigated for suspected links to a "terrorist enterprise".

In a separate operation also on Tuesday, French police arrested three men after finding their numbers in the mobile phone of a man of Algerian origin who was arrested at the weekend in Italy allegedly with a bomb-making kit.

Two of those suspects were arrested in Marseille and the third in Bordeaux in the southwest, said a police source. Another official stressed that the two sets of arrests were not linked.

The second raid came after the three men's phone numbers were found in the phone of Ryad Hannouni, who was picked up Saturday close to the central train station in the Italian city of Naples allegedly carrying a bomb-making kit.

The 28-year-old, for whom a European arrest warrant had been issued, was to be extradited to France, ANSA news agency said.

Officials said investigators wanted to question him on suspected links to militants coming to Europe from Afghanistan. Hannouni had reportedly travelled from tribal zones around the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Tuesday's arrests in France came as European and US security officials warned that Al-Qaeda may be planning Mumbai-style attacks with heavily-armed gunmen.

In the 2008 Mumbai assault, 10 militants from Al-Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Taiba mowed down unarmed civilians at targets across the Indian city after arriving by boat from Karachi, leaving 166 dead.

Security analysts have specifically cited the Mumbai carnage as a likely model for further attacks.

Japan and Sweden on Monday followed the United States and Britain by issuing travel warnings for their citizens about a possible Al-Qaeda attack on landmark sites in Europe.

The US State Department said in its alert on Sunday that attackers may use "a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests" in Europe.

Britain immediately backed the US alert and warned its own citizens of a "high threat of terrorism" in France and Germany.

US channel Fox News, citing unnamed intelligence officials, said militants had a drawn up list of targets in France and Germany.

These included Paris's Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, the city's central railway station and the soaring Alexanderplatz television tower.

The Eiffel Tower, one of France's most-visited tourist attractions, was twice evacuated last month because of telephoned bomb warnings.

Any attack against European cities and the United States will likely rely on militants with Western passports, who can more easily avoid detection, while reinforcing Al-Qaeda propaganda about a global struggle, experts say.

The mounting threat posed by "Western foreign fighters" has haunted security services since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and authorities have struggled to track suspects travelling to Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia to forge terror links.

© 2010 AFP

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