- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 5, 2010

PARIS (AP) — Police in southern France arrested 12 suspects in sweeps against suspected Islamic militant networks on Tuesday, including three men linked to a network recruiting fighters for Afghanistan, officials said.

The roundups were part of two entirely different counterterrorism cases under investigation by French judges and fell on the same day only by coincidence, one police official in Paris said.

Firearms were seized in one of the sweeps, another official said.

The arrests come as France and many other European nations have stepped up terrorism alert vigilance amid what has been described as an abstract though heightened threat in recent weeks. The U.S. government warned Americans over the weekend to use caution when traveling in Europe.

In one of the cases, nine suspected Islamic militants were detained in the southeastern city of Marseille and its suburbs, and authorities turned up at least one automatic rifle and a pump gun, the officials said.

In Tuesday’s other roundup, two men were arrested in Marseille and another in the southwestern city of Bordeaux on suspected ties to a Frenchman arrested in Naples, Italy, last month and accused of links to an Afghan recruiting ring.

“This very morning, police operations were launched in Marseille and Bordeaux that led notably to three arrests directly linked to the fight against terrorism,” Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said during a question-and-answer session in parliament’s lower house.

He made no reference to the nine other arrests.

Asked about the U.S. travel advisory, Mr. Hortefeux said France “has been very attentive and has heard the advisory by American authorities to their nationals” and noted France‘s strong cooperation with its allies.

A third police official said agents from counterterrorism agency DCRI had detained the suspects in Marseille and Bordeaux over suspected links to a group offering lodging and fake identity papers to Islamic militants looking to come to France.

The three men were alleged accomplices of a Frenchman detained in Naples last month and suspected of having fought in Afghanistan. Italian newspapers reported that the man was 28 years old, was of Algerian origin and was suspected to be a member of al Qaeda.

The DCRI has been leading an investigation of a suspected feeder network of militants headed to the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Western authorities believe that Osama bin Laden is hiding and which has been a key zone of operation from fighters from Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.

No further information about the arrests Tuesday was immediately available from the police officials, who were not authorized to be named publicly.


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