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Wednesday, 11 September, 2002, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Al-Qaeda 'ready to hit Europe'
A prisoner is carried on a stretcher by two US soldiers at Guantanamo Bay
Agents interviewed French suspects held in Guantanamo
Members of al-Qaeda who escaped the US-led war in Afghanistan are hiding in Europe and are ready "to hit at the chosen moment", the head of France's domestic intelligence service has warned.


Despite the destruction of al-Qaeda's epicentre, [the threat] is constant and worldwide

Pierre de Bousquet de Florian
"There is no reason to suppose we do not have small groups on our territory now who are capable of mobilising and striking when they choose. We have not managed to detect them," DST head Pierre de Bousquet de Florian told Le Monde newspaper, adding that the same was true in other European countries.

But the US and Israel remain al-Qaeda's prime targets, he said.

French agents have also been able to question six French suspects being held by the US military in Guantanamo Bay, which shed some light on how al-Qaeda cells operated in France, he said.

Mr de Bousquet de Florian said France faced a specific threat because of links that were known to exist between al-Qaeda and one of the armed Islamic organisations fighting the Algerian Government, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

Mr de Bousquet de Florian, a former adviser to President Jacques Chirac who was appointed in July, said the DST was in daily contact with both the CIA and FBI in the United States.

France has been able to supply help to US authorities in the trial of 11 September accused Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, he added.

Mobile

The French suspects, who were originally captured in Afghanistan, told questioners they were trained to be financially independent and use false papers to travel inside Europe, Mr de Bousquet de Florian told Le Monde.

"They are largely financially autonomous. They subsist thanks to delinquency, theft, credit card fraud, or there is a more recent example, selling fake designer clothing."

He said the extremists spent most of their time identifying suitable targets for terror attacks.

"One should recall that when the Islamists committed their anti-American attacks in Africa, in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, they had first carried out reconnaissance in the area on French, English and American interests," he said.

"One must also highlight the mobility of these groups, whose members travel in Europe - with false papers - contacting each other," he said.

He said French recruits had received training in Afghanistan after initially visiting London.


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03 Sep 02 | Europe
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