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France:  Four Islamist Suspects Believed Planning Terror Attacks - 2002-12-20

In France, the interior ministry says four people who were arrested earlier this week were planning one or more terrorist attacks in the near future.

An interior ministry statement said all four suspects had admitted that they were Islamist militants. It said two suspects said they had received training in the Pankisi Gorge region of Georgia, close to the border with Chechnya, and had been in contact with Chechen rebel leaders.

The ministry statement said none of the four confessed to planning an attack, but that the evidence makes it obvious that they were. It says there is no doubt that, given what has been found, one or several terrorist attacks were being planned in the relatively short term.

Police found gas canisters, chemicals, and electric components that could be used to make bomb detonators when they raided an apartment in a Paris suburb where the suspects had been staying.

One of the suspects has been identified as Merouane Ben Ahmed, 29, who has been wanted by police for two years in connection with an alleged plot to bomb Christian sites in the city of Strasbourg in 2000. The French Interior Ministry statement says he was a former commander of the Algerian Islamist opposition and a veteran of fighting in Afghanistan and Chechnya.