Paris police swoop in on Islamist fund-raisers

12th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 12 (AFP) - Twenty-two mainly Tunisian and Algerian men were arrested early Monday in the Paris region under an investigation into suspected Islamic extremist plans to carry out attacks in France, officials said.

PARIS, Dec 12 (AFP) - Twenty-two mainly Tunisian and Algerian men were arrested early Monday in the Paris region under an investigation into suspected Islamic extremist plans to carry out attacks in France, officials said.

Investigators believe some of the detainees are active in organised crime and have carried out armed robberies to raise money for Islamic extremist groups, the officials said.

Police suspect that the group were planning attacks on "highly symbolic targets", they said.

The suspects were under surveillance for several weeks and were detained after evidence emerged that "violent actions" were being planned, they added.

"We have not identified any precise target or time frame, but we are convinced that eventually they would take action," one official said.

The suspects were picked up at their homes in coordinated raids in several towns on the outskirts of Paris beginning at 6am.

Police scientists were at the scene of the arrests to check for traces of chemical, bacteriological or nuclear material.

The national police department said the suspects had been taken into custody and that searches were continuing at several homes and Internet cafes.

Officials said most of the suspects are Tunisian and Algerian men aged between 25 and 35, and that some have French nationality.

"The network is made up of people who have previously come up in investigations for criminal conspiracy in relation to a terrorist enterprise, and of common delinquents," the police department said in a statement.

Some of those arrested are "known to the authorities for possession of false papers and taking part in robberies," and some have travelled "in countries which are being watched by Western intelligence agencies," officials said.

Others may have been planning to travel to Iraq or recruit volunteer fighters to go there, they added.

Investigators were particularly interested in a 31-year-old Frenchman from the Seine-Saint Denis region northeast of Paris who has a past conviction for forging identity documents in connection with radical Islam.

Police have four days in which to question the men after which they must be brought before a judge or released. In several recent police swoops, most of those detained have been set free without charge.

The operation was carried out by members of the domestic intelligence service DST acting under the instructions of France's leading anti-terrorist magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière.

France stepped up its level of anti-terrorist alert after the July bombings in London, and government ministers have warned repeatedly that the country is seen as a target by Islamic militants.

Investigators take seriously a threat from the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) -- a movement linked to Al-Qaeda -- which said in a statement in September that France was its "enemy number one".

However officials said there was no known link between Monday's detainees and the GSPC.

Last month the French National Assembly approved an anti-terrorism law that will permit increased video surveillance, give police wider access to telephone and computer data, and extend initial detention periods in terrorist cases from four to six days.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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