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France Arrests Several Suspected Islamic Militants - 2001-09-21

French police have arrested more than half a dozen suspected Islamist militants during an early morning raid in the Paris area Friday. The raid follows a confession by a man being held in the United Arab Emirates who is suspected of being affiliated with Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden.

Police raided about a dozen places in Paris and surrounding areas, at about 6 AM local time and arrested at least seven suspected Islamist militants. Sources reportedly told the French media that the arrests were linked to confessions made by a 36-year-old French Algerian man arrested in Dubai in July.

According to reports, Djamel Begal was arrested at Dubai's international airport as he was changing flights on his way back from a training camp in Afghanistan. Mr. Begal reportedly confessed to an elaborate plot against U.S. interests in France, particularly the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Those arrested early Friday are suspected of helping plan the attacks.

French media report Mr. Begal had lived in Germany and Britain, and also enrolled several times in Afghan training camps directed by associates of Mr. bin Laden. The Saudi millionaire, who is living in Afghanistan, is considered a top suspect in last week's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Europe 1 radio also reported Friday that Mr. Begal was given detailed orders by a top bin Laden lieutenant to carry out a suicide bombing operation on the U.S. embassy in Paris, using a truck loaded with explosives.

An American embassy spokesman had earlier said he was aware of French media reports about plans to strike the embassy but would offer no comment on them.

Europe 1, citing French sources, said Mr. Begal was told to draw up a detailed strategy for the attack, including opening an Internet cafe in France, to serve as a cover for his group.

French media have also linked Mr. Begal to a Tunisian man, Nizar Trabelsi, who was arrested in Belgium last week. Last week, France opened two judicial inquiries into possible terrorist operations in France.

Europe 1 radio reported one of the French judges charged with the investigations left Thursday for Dubai, to question Mr. Begal.