French hold Algerian 'terrorist'

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The Independent Online
AN ALGERIAN caught transporting 13kg (29lb) of explosives, arms and radio equipment from Germany will go before an anti-terrorist magistrate in Paris today. The discovery fuels French fears that Algerian Islamic fundamentalists are operating from Europe.

Abdel-Hakim Boutrif, 34, a French-born Algerian who lives near Paris, was detained at a motorway toll-gate in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department near the frontier with Germany on Friday evening. Customs found 129 100-gram (three-and-a-half-ounce) sticks of explosives, 99 detonators, ammunition, three automatic pistols, one automatic rifle, four night-sights, three scanners and four two-way radios in his car, they said.

The news of Mr Boutrif's arrest came as the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), banned in Algeria, condemned the murder in Algiers on Sunday of a French priest and a nun, and said the killings were a provocation. The deaths brought to 34 the number of foreigners killed in Algeria since September.

The sources said Mr Boutrif, who had been transferred to Paris, would see an examining magistrate of the prosecutor's office, which co-ordinates anti- terrorist activities, today. They said police had ascertained it was the second time he had made such a trip, and that he was planning to take the arms to Algeria through Spain and Morocco.

Another two Algerian residents in France were charged with terrorist offences after arms were found in their possession in March.

The French fear that violence in Algeria will spill into France, as thousands of Algerians leave the former North African colony. Mr Boutrif's arrest will bolster French politicians opposed to the Schengen treaty, which is due to abolish frontier controls throughout the European Union. The treaty was signed by all EU countries except Britain, Ireland and Denmark.

Last month, a French examining magistrate visited Britain to question Algerian residents believed to have FIS connections. Roger Le Loire, the magistrate, and French counter-espionage officers, interviewed seven Algerians, one of whom has British nationality, and one Englishman, on British police premises. According to reports in Paris, police in Britain refused requests from Mr Le Loire to issue warrants to search their homes.

Sunday's shooting of Helene Saint-Raymond, 67, and Father Henri Verges, 64, in the Algiers casbah prompted the French government to renew its appeal to French residents in Algeria to leave the country.

In October, the Armed Islamic Group, an extremist group which had claimed responsibility for kidnapping three French consular officials - who were later released in a police raid - said foreigners would become a target.

The FIS, banned in Algeria since the government halted elections in January 1992, said in a statement issued in Bonn yesterday that killing religious figures was contrary to the sharia, Islamic law.

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