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Three French Muslims Held in Iraq

February 4, 2005

PARIS (AP) _ Three French citizens who joined the rebel insurgency in Iraq have been held by coalition forces since being captured there last year, officials said Friday.

The report comes amid a broadening investigation in France into networks sending young French Muslims to Iraq to fight against U.S.-led forces.

Last week, French intelligence agents arrested two volunteers preparing to leave for Iraq and the man suspected of organizing the network, effectively dismantling the operation, police have said.

Three other French militants who went to Iraq through the same Paris-based network have died there.

The trio of French Muslims were detained for involvement with rebels in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and for attempted armed robbery of a government car carrying money, said Danny Hussein Ali, a secretary of the Iraqi human rights minister.

The French daily Le Figaro reported that at least two of the three were brought to Iraq by a Paris-based network, now broken up, that had recruited Muslims in France to fight against the U.S.-led forces in Iraq.

Ali said the three _ Faras Ibrahim Howeidi, Chekou Diakhabi and Peter Cherif _ were in the custody of multinational forces, and the French Embassy was aware of their detention.

French diplomatic officials, however, said they had few details about the detentions.

``We are aware of the existence of these three people of French nationality,″ Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous said at a regular briefing, but said Paris ``knows very little, notably the way they were arrested and what charges might weigh against them.″

Ali, the Iraqi official, said Howeidi was arrested in Mosul in April after attempting to rob a government car carrying money.

Multinational forces arrested Diakhabi on Nov. 26 and Cherif on Dec. 2 in Fallujah, accusing them of involvement with the insurgents, Ali said.

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