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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 16:48 GMT
Paris police probe 'chemical plot'
Police check a musician's bags on a Paris street
Paris has beefed up security for the Christmas period
French anti-terrorist police have seized chemicals from the home of suspected Islamic militants, amid media reports of a possible chemical attack plot.

Four men are being held while the liquid and powder substances are analysed to determine what they are.

A protective suit designed for chemical or biological attack was also found, said Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, who described the case as "very serious".

This is not a petty affair

Nicolas Sarkozy
French Interior Minister
One report on the French television news channel LCI, quoting a source close to the case, said the chemicals could have been used to pollute the city's water supplies.

'Afghan links'

"When one finds people with this sort of material, one has to arrest them," said Mr Sarkozy. "This is not a petty affair."

Police who searched the apartment in the northern Paris suburb of La Courneuve also seized $5,000 in cash, Islamist propaganda, and a computer.

All four men, arrested in a dawn raid on Monday, are reported to be of North African origin - three with Algerian links and one Moroccan.

Mr Sarkozy told parliament the suspects were thought to have spent time in Chechnya and that one had links with Rabah Kadre, being held in the UK.

"Even before we know the precise results of the analyses (on the products seized), it was better to arrest them before rather than wait until after," he told parliament.

Reports said the men were also believed to have spend time in Afghanistan.

The results of tests on the chemicals are expected to be known within 48 hours.

Seasonal precautions

The French Government has ordered an additional 1,000 police and troops on to the streets of the capital to provide extra security over Christmas.

There have also been a series of arrests in the last few weeks.

Monday's arrests were made as part of an investigation by France's leading anti-terrorist judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere.

He was also behind the arrest last month of a group of people in Paris suburbs accused of having had links to the shoebomber Richard Reid - a British man who attempted to blow up a flight from France to the US with explosives in his shoes.

Nice raid

In a separate development on Tuesday, an arms cache - including an M-80 rocket launcher - was discovered in the southern city of Nice.

Five people were being held.

The haul included assault rifles, pistols, detonators, bullet-proof vests and police jackets, along with a map of Nice's court complex and a plan of the local sewage system.

"This arsenal could serve a number of purposes, not necessarily terrorism," prosecutor Eric de Montgolfier told the French news agency AFP.

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26 Nov 02 | Europe
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