French police arrest 12 in two anti-terror raids

5th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Police arrested 12 people in two separate anti-terrorism raids in southern France on Tuesday, seizing guns and ammunition in one of them, sources close to the investigations said.

The operations came during a state of high alert for attacks in France and followed warnings by the governments of several countries of a threat of atrocities in Europe.

Police from France's anti-terrorism squad made nine arrests on Tuesday morning in the southern port city of Marseille and the nearby town of Avignon, the sources told AFP.

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.

The US State Department issued a travel advisory Sunday telling Americans in Europe to remain vigilant of possible terror strikes, and several other countries followed suit with similar warnings.

It said attackers may use "a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests," and that particular targets could include railways, subways and locations frequented by tourists.

The alert -- which the State Department issues regarding specific events, and is one step down from a travel warning -- follows intelligence reports that suggested an Al-Qaeda attack could be imminent.

Intelligence reports have said well-armed teams of jihadists planned to seize and murder Western hostages in a manner similar to the attacks two years ago in the Indian city of Mumbai on two hotels and its main railway station.

In that attack, 10 gunmen killed 166 people and injured more than 300.

France's government has warned that the country faces a serious threat of imminent terrorist attack. False alerts in recent weeks have prompted evacuations of train stations and Paris's Eiffel Tower.

© 2010 AFP

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