French police nab Iraq recruitment ring in Paris

19th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 19 (AFP) - French police probing a ring which allegedly recruited Muslim fighters for the anti-US insurgency in Iraq arrested six men in the Paris area Monday, an official close to the investigation told AFP.

PARIS, Sept 19 (AFP) - French police probing a ring which allegedly recruited Muslim fighters for the anti-US insurgency in Iraq arrested six men in the Paris area Monday, an official close to the investigation told AFP.

The swoop was organised by France's counter-espionage agency, the DST, as part of a year-long investigation carried out with the intelligence-gathering unit of the police under instructions from three top anti-terrorist judges.

The suspects were aged in their 20s and 30s, the source said without identifying them further. He did not say where exactly the arrests took place.

Officials said some of the men or people associated with them were identified during public demonstrations by Muslims that took place last year to protest a new French law which prohibits religious garb -- such as Islamic headscarves for girls -- in state schools.

It was the second raid of its sort carried out by authorities, following an operation in Paris in January that resulted in 11 arrests. Three of those suspects remain in detention pending criminal probes against them for criminal association with a terrorist enterprise.

French authorities believe young immigrants from Muslim north Africa were enlisted to join the ranks of the rebels in Iraq often on an individual basis in prayer rooms or through family members.

France has recently stepped up its cooperation with EU partners and Middle East countries to identify would-be insurgents on its territory and place them under surveillance.

Officials say that in 2004 some 20 young French Muslim men were identified as having gone to join the combat in Iraq. Six were killed either fighting US-led forces or in suicide bomb attacks, three were taken prisoner, and the fate of a dozen others remains unknown.

"It's going on and it will always go on," Alain Chouet, a former top official in France's DGSE foreign intelligence service, told AFP.

"It's become a sort of declaration, a challenge which, instead of targeting the French state, targets the worldview wanted by the Americans," Chouet said.

Chouet added that the French Muslims tempted into joining the Iraqi insurgency were often "isolated, vulnerable, who find themselves captives of certain persuaders, propagandists who try to enlist them".

Jean-Louis Bruguière, one of the anti-terrorist judges involved in the latest arrests, said in a recent magazine interview that authorities believe the phenomenon was largely informal.

 "We're not yet talking about really organised rings," Bruguière said.

"It's not a mass phenomenon, that's for sure, but it is spreading all the time everywhere -- it's in Italy, in Britain, in Spain, in Germany, in Holland and in Belgium," said a former DST anti-terrorist official, Louis Caprioli.

He said the DST and police probably decided to stop their surveillance and arrest the six suspects Monday "because these guys were about to leave for Iraq, because there was a plot, (or) because there was evidence that was about to vanish."

Experts said that, though foreigners made up only a small minority in the ranks of the Iraqi insurgency, many of them came from western countries.

In the case of France, several of the recruits are believed to transit to Iraq via Syria and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia, prompting moves to enact a law that would give police powers to collect data on aircraft passengers heading to those destinations.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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