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 Friday, 27 December, 2002, 18:03 GMT
France 'foils Russian embassy attack'
The Russian embassy in Paris
The Russian embassy in Paris 'was a target'
Suspected Islamic militants arrested in Paris over the last two weeks were planning to attack the Russian embassy in the French capital, the French interior ministry has alleged.

The group wanted to attack Russian interests, and especially the Russian embassy in Paris

French interior ministry statement
The group had been "operational" but was now "dismantled and the plan it was preparing thwarted", the ministry said in a statement.

The group planned the actions to avenge the deaths of people fighting with Chechen separatist rebels, it added.

Police said last week they found bomb-making equipment at at least one of the addresses raided in the Paris suburbs.

Al-Qaeda specialists

They also alleged that some of the arrested men received training in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, and met Chechen military chiefs there.

On Friday, the interior ministry said members of the group who visited the gorge also met "senior operational members of al-Qaeda, who are specialists in toxic substances".

The same interior ministry statement alleged that the group wanted to avenge the death of:

  • The Arab-born Chechen rebel leader Khattab
  • Another militant, Al Moutana, killed by the Russians in Chechnya
  • and the Chechen group that carried out the hostage-taking at a Moscow theatre in October

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said in a statement that the French arrests "present more direct proof that the bandits operating in Chechnya and on the territory of Georgia are tied to international terrorism."

Guantanamo link

In total, nine arrests have been made since 16 December, when four people were arrested in the Paris suburb of La Courneuve.

The Romainville building raided on Tuesday
This Romainville building was raided on Tuesday

Police later said they were "undoubtedly" planning one or several attacks.

One man, named as Nouredine Merabet, was arrested near the French-Spanish border on 21 December.

Four arrests were made on 24 December in the suburb of Romainville, but only revealed on Thursday.

Police say one of those arrested this week is the brother of Mourad Ben Chelali, a French national being held at the US base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Recent arrivals

He and the three others arrested at the same time are to be taken before an anti-terrorist judge on Friday, and are expected to be placed under formal investigation.

A judicial source was quoted by the French agency AFP as saying that they had arrived in France very recently, possibly after the first round of arrests, on 16 December.

All those arrested are said to be of Algerian or Moroccan origin.

The arrests stem from an investigation into possible connections between Islamic militants in Europe and Chechnya.

Fearing a possible attack over the Christmas and New Year holiday period, the French Government has ordered an extra 1,000 police and troops on to the streets of Paris.

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