In what appears to be the first real breakthrough for French anti-terrorist investigators, Swedish police have arrested a man in connection with the bombing of the Saint-Michel metro station in Paris on 25 July.
The Algerian-born man, named as Abdelkrim Deneche, alias Abdessabour, is thought to be European operations head of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), Algeria's most uncompromising Islamic terrorist organisation. He is being held as a witness to the attack, in which seven people died and more than 80 injured.
The arrest was reportedly made at the request of the French judge - Jean- Francois Ricard - who is heading the investigation into the Saint-Michel bombing. Mr Ricard, it was revealed yesterday, flew to Sweden secretly on Friday in the company of senior French police and intelligence officers and is expected to request the extradition of Mr Deneche in the next few days.
Mr Deneche was detained at 7am yesterday in the southern suburbs of Stockholm where he had lived on and off with his wife and two children since the early 1990s. As well as being a founder of the El Ansar newsletter - where the first admission of responsibility for the Saint-Michel bombing appeared - Mr Deneche has lived periodically in Paris since 1993, in the same street where a Muslim cleric was assassinated on 11 July.
French police have increasingly concluded that this attack was carried out by the same GIA cell as the Saint-Michel bombing and the bomb attack near the Arc de Triomphe last week.
According to French reports, Mr Deneche is well known to intelligence services of several countries. He is said to have trained with the Afghan Mujahedin in Pakistan and fought in Afghanistan against the Russians. He was traced to a residence in Stockholm where, it is reported, a "large quantity" of press clippings about the Saint-Michel bomb were also found.
The fact that Mr Ricard travelled to Sweden personally is evidence of how seriously French police are taking the connection. On Friday, the day after the Arc de Triomphe bomb, Mr Ricard was officially said to be on holiday, and all inquiries were passed to his deputy. At the time, Mr Ricard's absence seemed to indicate a surprising lack of commitment to the most urgent and important anti-terrorist investigation in France for almost a decade, but the explanation went unquestioned.
French police sources say that Mr Deneche was identified from photographs by a witness who saw him near the scene of the Saint-Michel bombing. It is not clear whether his picture was one of the three photofits of "important witnesses" distributed by French police. Algerian security services were said to have identified one of the three as a known GIA operative.
On 17 July the Algerian newspaper Tribune, which is regarded as close to the Algerian security services, identified Mr Deneche as the man behind the assassination of Imam Abdulbaki Sahraoui in Paris a week before.
According to French police, one of the men they were seeking was seen both at the scene of the assassination and near the Saint-Michel bombing. On both occasions the man appeared to be acting in a supervisory or look- out role rather than being directly involved in the attacks. This would fit with Mr Deneche's reputed senior status in the GIA.