Thursday, November 8, 2001

PARIS They lived in pleasant neighborhoods in the heart of Europe. A computer enthusiast, a student angling for graduate school, a professional soccer player all young men of North African descent who seemed well-integrated into European society.
But somewhere along the way, they chose another path, leaving the suburbs of Paris, the schools of southern France or the playing fields of Germany for the training camps of Afghanistan.
Now, they are under arrest in Europe, suspected of plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Paris and other U.S. interests under orders from Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network. Another, Zacarias Moussaoui, is in U.S. custody, believed to have possibly been an intended member of the September 11 suicide hijacking teams.
Some two dozen people with ties to North Africa have been arrested in Europe most since September 11 in connection with current terrorist investigations.
The numbers are particularly disturbing for France, which once ruled much of North Africa and is home to at least 4 million Muslims, mostly from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.
France has had long years of experience with Islamic militants from Algeria, wracked for nearly a decade by a brutal Islamic insurgency. French courts have convicted dozens for past acts of violence.
But French investigators say the suspects now in custody represent a “new generation” of militants educated and well-traveled, who established links with others in different countries and eventually lost identity with their own.
After mixing with Muslim fighters in Chechnya or al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, some made their way back to Algeria. Others, like Djamel Beghal and Kamel Daoudi, returned to Europe, purportedly to plot terrorist attacks.
Algerian Ahmed Ressam went to Canada. In December 1999, he was arrested driving into the United States with a trunk full of explosives.
In April, he was convicted of plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport during millennium celebrations, and faces up to 130 years in prison.
Messrs. Beghal and Daoudi, detained in the embassy plot, are French-Algerians, as are five suspected collaborators held in France. Britain is holding an Algerian pilot, Lotfi Raissi, whom prosecutors claim trained several of the September 11 hijackers. Six other Algerians with suspected links to al Qaeda were recently arrested in Spain.
Looking for what motivates these men, some analysts point to conditions in Algeria, where unemployment is rampant and civil war has left at least 100,000 people dead.
“A university graduate in Algeria has no options,” said Ray Takeyh of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Many come to France to seek a better life. But once there, they can feel like second-class citizens. “You can see how [susceptible] a young man would be to an Islamic fundamentalist or radical message,” Mr. Takeyh said.
Mr. Daoudi reportedly told investigators that “going to Afghanistan to join the jihad [holy war] gave me a direction in life.”
“It was going to give me a foundation.”
An undated photo of Mr. Daoudi shows his long, thin face framed by large eyeglasses. It seems to fit the description of the 27-year-old who studied computers and worked for two years in a municipal job at the town cyber-cafe.
Fingered by Mr. Beghal as the communications expert of the suspected embassy plot, Mr. Daoudi fled to Britain, leaving behind dismantled alarm clocks and cell-phone frames in his apartment. He was caught and sent back to France, where he has denied any involvement in the putported plot.
The Algerian-born Mr. Beghal, meanwhile, is the suspected ringleader. Arrested in Dubai in late July, he told investigators there he’d been recruited by a top bin Laden aide in Afghanistan, who gave him gifts from the Saudi millionaire. Once extradited to Paris, he recanted much of his testimony, but acknowledged he had been trained in Afghanistan.
In France, Mr. Beghal lived in a working-class housing complex with his French wife and their three children. Life changed when the family moved to England, where Mr. Beghal attended mosques frequented by al Qaeda operatives, and then Afghanistan.
Mr. Beghal also identified Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian believed to be the designated suicide bomber at the Paris embassy. Detained in Belgium, Mr. Trabelsi played professional soccer in Germany, but eventually sank into drugs and petty crime. Officials believe he met Mr. Beghal in Afghanistan.
In Mr. Trabelsi’s Brussels apartment, police found a list of chemicals that could be used in explosives. They also found bomb-making materials at a bar belonging to an associate.
Then there is Mr. Moussaoui, a French-Moroccan arrested in Minnesota in August. He first aroused suspicion in the United States by seeking in-flight pilot training. He told instructors he was not interested in takeoffs or landings.
Growing up in the southern French town of Narbonne, Mr. Moussaoui was described by teachers as extroverted, happy and surrounded by friends. He finished high school and then a technical degree. His brother has been quoted as saying that Mr. Moussaoui hoped to go to graduate school.
Mr. Moussaoui’s travels led him to Britain, where, his mother has said, he underwent a conversion to a strict form of Islam. France’s security service put his name on a 1999 watch list of men possibly affiliated with militant Islamic groups.
France has four investigating judges devoted to cracking terrorist cells. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one judge described the suspects as people with academic degrees often scientific who speak several languages and are “veritable globe-trotters.”
Though many in this group originate from North Africa, some have completely cut themselves off from their countries of origin and adopted a wider cause.
Only after examining telephone records, the judge said, “we have realized the scope of the internationalization of the jihad.”

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