Paris police detain 23 Algerian suspects

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FRENCH police said yesterday that they had arrested 23 people in Paris after stopping 2,000 overnight on Sunday during a massive security operation. The arrests came after Algerian Islamic fundamentalists threatened to bring violence to France after the detention of 17 alleged sympathisers.

Two mainline railway stations, the Gare de l'Est and the Gare de Lyon were closed on Sunday for a time after hoax callers telephoned with bomb threats.

The police behaviour angered many Arab residents and brought charges that most people stopped were suspected, on grounds of appearance, of delit de sale gueule ('guilt by ugly mug').

Fearing an outbreak of terrorism like the one in which 13 people were killed in 1986, police in Paris yesterday continued their security operation. CRS riot police checked the identity of North Africans, particularly car drivers entering the capital, in the latest move in 'Operation Chrysanthemum', introduced last November to counter fundamentalist activities.

The detention of the 17 Islamic fundamentalist suspects over the past four days was prompted by the murder in Algiers last week of five French nationals.

Police also detained an Algerian student in Rouen for possessing ammunition and Islamic fundamentalist material.

The French response, accompanied by criticism of Britain, German and the United States for allegedly harbouring Algerian fun damentalists, was no doubt partly motivated by the fact that Charles Pasqua, the Gaullist Interior Minister, held the same ministry in 1986 when Arab bombers terrorised Paris in an unsuccessful campaign to win the release of Middle Eastern prisoners held in French jails on terrorist charges.

Thanks to a member of the network behind those bombings who turned himself in, the police uncovered a support system run by cafe-owners, grocers and taxi-drivers of North African origin who had lived apparently peacefully in Paris for years.

Mr Pasqua's fear now is that the various Islamic groups responsible for the violence in Algeria may have set up similar networks both to supply comrades in North Africa and to start trouble in France.

The latest French response brought a pledge from the Islamic Salvation Army, or AIS, the armed wing of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), to make France 'bear the responsibility' if it did not release the 17 prisoners, held in a military camp in Folembray, about 60 miles north-east of Paris.

While most of those held are known Islamic militants, one is an imam from a mosque in the southern Ardeche department with no previous record of problems with the authorities.

As the AIS made public its threat against France, the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, which claimed responsibility for killing the five Frenchmen last week, said it would bomb schools and universities in Algeria because they served the secular government.