- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

PARIS — French antiterrorism police arrested 14 persons, including a Muslim prayer leader, and seized guns in raids of suspected Islamist militants in the Paris region yesterday, police said.

Police said the suspects were thought to have been involved in forging official papers. Blank documents and plastic laminating materials were found in the sweep.

Those taken into custody included at least one prayer leader, or imam, and some of his followers, police said.

Pistols also were seized in a detainee’s home, authorities said. Under French antiterrorism laws, the suspects can be questioned for 96 hours without charge.

In Spain, authorities also announced progress with antiterrorism probes.

Judge Baltasar Garzon said he has completed his investigation of an al Qaeda cell accused of helping plan the September 11 attacks in the United States. He did not disclose his findings, but the end of the probe could set the stage for a trial.

Judge Garzon has indicted 40 persons on terrorism charges, including 10 he accused of helping plan the September 11 attacks.

Meanwhile, one of his colleagues investigating the train bombings in Madrid leveled terrorism charges against three persons accused of helping supply dynamite used in the attacks, officials said. The March 11 bombings killed 191 persons.

A total of 23 persons, mostly Moroccans, have been charged in the bombings, blamed on Islamist militants with possible links to terror network al Qaeda.

In a coordinated strike across Europe, police last week arrested 17 suspected Islamist militants, including one suspected of masterminding the Madrid attacks and members of a purported cell in Belgium thought to be taking orders from him and planning an attack.

In Norway, a prosecutor dropped all charges against the purported founder of Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish Muslim terror group, citing a lack of evidence and fears that witness testimony in Iraq had been coerced.

Mullah Krekar, 47, a refugee in Norway since 1991, had been in and out of custody on numerous charges, including financing terrorism and suspicions that he plotted to kill political rivals in northern Iraq from 2000 to 2001.

Prosecutor Tor-Aksel Bush said he was dropping the case after more than two years of investigation.

“The prosecutor has not found grounds to charge Krekar for any crime,” Mr. Bush told reporters.

A key point in his decision, Mr. Bush said, was testimony from a 20-year-old would-be suicide bomber from Ansar al-Islam who told Norwegian police that he had been pressured into making false statements while a prisoner of a rival Kurdish group, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Mullah Krekar called the decision a victory.

He denies any association with the terror network and says he no longer has any contact with Ansar al-Islam.

The prosecutor also said that Norwegian police chose not to investigate further because they could not protect witnesses in Iraq from threats and reprisals.

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