- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002

From combined dispatches

HONG KONG Three men have been arrested in Hong Kong after a suspected attempt to buy four Stinger anti-aircraft missiles for al Qaeda from undercover FBI agents, the Hong Kong government said yesterday.

The three detainees, two Pakistanis and a U.S. citizen of Indian origin, appeared in a Hong Kong court yesterday to fight an extradition request from the United States.

They were arrested Sept. 20 on charges of trying to sell more than a half-ton of heroin and 5 tons of hashish to fund the purchase of the missiles, a statement by the Hong Kong government said.

The court remanded them in custody until Nov. 15 pending further information from Washington, the government said.

"Based on remarks made to the FBI agents, it is believed that the defendants intended to deliver the Stinger missile systems to a designated foreign terrorist organization, namely the al Qaeda," the statement said.

The Stinger is a small shoulder-launched missile designed for attacking aircraft at low altitude, possibly during takeoff or landing.

It was the first time that Hong Kong authorities had reported any al Qaeda-linked activities in the Chinese territory. The case is certain to revive worries of Hong Kong being used as a transshipment center for the clandestine transfer of arms and as a transit point for illegal immigrants.

Hong Kong, a former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, has an extradition agreement with the United States, although Beijing does not.

Authorities in France, meanwhile, said French intelligence agents have arrested eight suspects in connection with a Tunisian synagogue bombing earlier this year that killed 19 persons. German authorities claimed the attack was linked to al Qaeda.

Fourteen of the victims were German tourists, and responsibility was claimed by an al Qaeda-linked group that also took credit for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

French authorities have said they believe the April 11 attack was carried out by a Tunisian, Nizar Naouar, and an unidentified accomplice who also lived in the North African country. Officials said Naouar is believed to have died in the explosion, but they have not said what happened to his suspected helper.

One of those detained was identified as Walid Naouar, the brother of Nizar Naouar, who was believed to have been driving the gas truck that exploded outside the synagogue on Tunisia's resort island of Djerba.

The Naouars' parents and three persons close to the family were among the others detained, Lyon prosecutor Christian Hassensrat said. Under France's tough new anti-terrorism law, authorities can hold the suspects up to four days without charging them.

The suspects were detained near Lyon in southern France and were being questioned by agents from France's DST counterintelligence service who were acting on orders from France's top anti-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement that police found documents in the Naouar home in Saint-Priest, near Lyon, that relate directly to the attack.

The 2,000-year-old Ghriba synagogue, the oldest in Africa, was full of tourists at the time of the blast, about 375 miles south of Tunis. The synagogue is the symbolic hub of the Muslim North African nation's approximately 2,000-member Jewish community.

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