11 Arrested Accused Of Links To Al-Qaida

Wednesday, February 14th 2007, 2:49 pm
By: News On 6

PARIS (AP) _ A tip about bomb threats against French supermarkets led to the arrests of 11 people suspected of ties to an al-Qaida-linked recruiting network for the Iraqi insurgency, police said Wednesday.

Counterterrorism agents arrested eight suspects in and near the southwestern city of Toulouse, officials said. Another was taken into custody east of Paris before dawn.

Two other suspects were detained at Paris' Orly airport late Tuesday after being sent home from Syria, where they were caught by authorities in December while allegedly trying to sneak into Iraq.

Counterterrorism teams have arrested at least two dozen suspects, including those taken into custody this week, since judicial authorities opened a probe in June 2005 into suspected French feeder networks for fighters against U.S. and allied forces in Iraq.

The inquiry began with a tip from an informant who told police about a string of anonymous letters that had been sent to supermarkets in and near Toulouse threatening bombings against them, according to a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The threatened bombings never took place.

Police said they had found that some of the suspects arrested this week had traveled to Syria as well as Egypt in an effort to reach Iraq.

The latest suspects, who included four women, were mostly in their 20s _ although a suspected ringleader, who was not identified, was 61, police said. No weapons were found in the arrests, but police said the investigation was continuing.

France's chief anti-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, warned in New York on Tuesday that Europe is facing a ``pretty high'' threat of a terror attack _ and that the risk is constantly growing. Bruguiere has also repeatedly expressed concern that French fighters in Iraq could return home with skills and training to carry out terror attacks in France.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Bruguiere said Islamic militants were becoming more radical, and wanted to show that their power has not diminished since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The office of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, a presidential candidate in April and May elections, issued a statement early Wednesday praising the latest arrests. His ministry rarely issues formal statements about counterterrorism arrests.