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2 arrested in French anti-terrorism probe, suspected of plotting attacks

Friday, March 08, 2013

Two Frenchmen suspected of plotting terrorist attacks, making explosives and extremist activity online were detained Thursday, amid heightened concern about threats to France over its military campaign against al-Qaida-linked fighters in Mali.

Officials at the Interior Ministry and the Paris prosecutor’s office say intelligence and police officers detained the young men Thursday in a house in Marignane near the Mediterranean port city of Marseille. Authorities were scouring the house for explosives or other evidence of terrorist connections. The suspects are French citizens, aged 18 and 20, the officials said.

The young men were suspected of preparing explosives, and had been under surveillance since November, the Interior Ministry official said. They had been identified as a threat based on “jihadist messages and consultations” online, and authorities moved in because they believed the two were ready to carry out “terrorist acts,” he said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss terrorism investigations.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the target or location of their potential attacks might have been, or whether the men were involved in any international terrorist network.

French authorities have been on high alert for terrorist activity for years, and especially heightened alert since the French military launched an operation in January against extremists who imposed severe Islamic rule in the West African country of Mali.

There was no immediate link between the men detained Thursday and the campaign in Mali.

But French authorities have warned that the operation increases the risk of attacks by homegrown militants in France. Small groups of France-based militants have already headed to Mali.

One French-Malian citizen detained in Mali in November was sent to France this week and is in custody, the Paris prosecutor’s office said Thursday. Ibrahim Ouattara, a 24-year-old from of the working class Paris suburb of Aubervilliers, had a history of trips to places like Yemen and Somalia, and is suspected of being a scout to set up a recruiting network to Mali.

“We can’t rule out that youth may want to punish France for what they consider to be an attack against Islam,” anti-terrorist judge Marc Trevidic told The Associated Press last week. He particularly noted the threat of a “low intensity” attack by isolated extremists in France, as opposed to big organized networks.

Authorities in France for years have monitored radical Muslims— many with family ties in former French colonies in Africa — who travel abroad to wage jihad, or holy war, and could return home with battle skills and know-how to carry out terrorist attacks.

French authorities have been concerned about radicalization among Muslims in poor, isolated housing projects, and have rounded up several youths in recent weeks suspected of trying to join the fight in West Africa. Moderate Muslims express concern that such sweeps against a radical fringe risk stigmatizing France’s 5-million-strong Muslim community.


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