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Alleged Islamists plotting kidnap before arrest, French spy chief says

Reuters/Stephane Mahe

The 17 alleged Islamists arrested in France on Friday appeared to be plotting a kidnapping, according to France’s intelligence chief. One of them is an Islamic convert who has already served time for joining a terror gang.

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The detention of the 17 was prolonged in Saturday morning, in line with French law, which allows terrorism suspects to be held on remand for up to 96 hours.

The group, Forsane Alizzi, consisted of French nationals and “appeared to be preparing a kidnap”, Bernard Squarcini of of the Central Directorate for Domestic Intelligence (DCRI) told La Provence newspaper.

Interior Minister Claude Guéant ordered Forsane Alizzi dissolved on 29 February and the funds of 26 of its members were frozen.

But, according to Squarcini, they continued battle training sessions, such as paintball, in woods and parks, and underwent “religious indoctrination” with a “very violent message”.

Guéant told le Parisien newspaper that "members of Forsane Alizza took part in weekly physical training which can be considered paramilitary training".

Squarcini said that his services have been watching the group since October and that police recovered "several computers, sim cards, weapons, money, 10,000 euros in small notes, four Kalashnikov rifles, eight rifles, seven or eight handguns, a taser, tear gas grenades".

A Frenchman from Guadeloupe who has already served jail time for membership of a “terrorist” group was one of the 17.

Willy Brigitte, who converted to Islam and studied in a madrassa in Yemen in the 1990s, was handed over to France by Australia in 2003 and jailed for nine years in 2007.

He was found to have been planning at least one attack in Australia.

No arms were found at his home on Friday but his computer and mobile phone were seized, police sources say.

Forsane Alizza leader, Mohammed Achamlane, is also among those still detained.

His lawyer, Benoît Poquet, on Saturday said that he “categorically denies ever having taken part in any sort of terrorist activity” and suggested the case was being exploited to to help President Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign to be reelected.

The raids came in the wake of Mohamed Merah’s killing spree in Toulouse and Montauban.

Sarkozy’s government this week rejected a call by the Socialist opposition, which controls the Senate, for a hearing of intelligence chiefs, including Squarcini, to establish why they failed to stop Merah despite having had him under surveillance for several years.

A physicist employed at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) faced trial for associating with a terrorist group on Thursday and Friday.

Adlène Hicheur admitted exchanging emails with a correspondent known as “Phoenix Shadow”, believed to be Mustapha Debchi, the media organiser of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim).

But he denies having accepted Phoenix Shadow’s invitation to join an Al-Qaeda unit in France.

In one of the emails Hicheur allegedly proposed to target members of a French army battalion to punish them for operating in Afghanistan, one of the reasons given by Merah for his murder of three French soldiers.

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