French arrest Islamists after arms find

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The Independent Online
FRENCH police have arrested two Algerians believed to be members of the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) after finding arms, ammunition and about 1,000 false Algerian identity documents, judicial sources said yesterday.

The sources said the two men, arrested in Lille and in the Paris suburbs this week had been tracked down in the north of France by police who were dismantling a heroin- trafficking ring. They said an Israeli Uzi automatic rifle, 9mm ammunition and blank identity papers were among the objects seized.

The case, involving two Algerians who were not named, was being handled by Jean-Louis Bruguiere, the examining magistrate in charge of France's anti-terrorist network.

They had already been charged under articles 'relating to a terrorist enterprise', the sources said. One of the detainees was suspected of providing accommodation for FIS members travelling through France, they added.

The arrests came after several dozen people had been rounded up and then released last autumn. The importance of the latest arrests was that the suspects were apparently involved in subversion in Algeria itself.

Although there were few details of the precise activities of the latest people arrested, the case seemed to be part of a determined pattern by French police to rein in FIS act ivities in France. The Algerian government is said to have been pushing France to be more active against fundamentalists on French territory.

The virtual civil war in Algeria has prompted fears both of 'boat people' arriving in France and of conflicts breaking out among the North African immigrant community in France.

Paris is said to be speeding up naturalisation procedures for many Algerians who have a claim on French nationality.

On the other hand, the authorities are preparing what would effectively be displaced persons' camps for an influx of new refugees from North Africa. In just the past two weeks, as attacks on intellectuals by Islamic fundamentalists have stepped up in Algeria, the number of middle-class Algerians arriving in France has increased.

In January, France angered Switzerland by allowing two Iranian suspects wanted for the murder of an Iranian dissident near Geneva to fly home to Tehran. The French government said only that they were released 'in the national interest'. This came after the abduction and subsequent release of three French consular officials in Algiers in October. Several of their captors were killed in an Algerian police operation to free them. The mission coincided with the visit to Algiers of one of France's top under-cover negotiators with Middle East hostage-takers, a man who handled talks to obtain the liberation of people held by Islamic Jihad in Lebanon in the Eighties.

French sources conversant with counter-terrorist activities said Paris had obtained assurances from Tehran that in exchange for the Iranians held in France, Iran would turn a blind eye to French aid to the military government in Algeria.

Algerian security forces killed dozens of suspected Muslim fundamentalists and left their bodies in the streets in a revenge raid on the Islamist stronghold of Blida two weeks ago, Reuter reports. Witnesses and diplomats described the raids as an operation to avenge murdered security men, and to try to break the Islamists' control over the city, 50km (30 miles) south of Algiers.