Bomb Discovered in France; 15 Suspects Arrested
PARIS (AP) _ French police found a bomb in the northern city of Lille today and rounded up 10 suspects, including a man believed to be a key figure in a wave of terrorist attacks.
Boualen Bensaid, 28, an Algerian who arrived in France several months ago, was arrested as he gave orders to plant a bomb, police and news reports said. Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debre said Bensaid ``appeared to be a pivotal figure″ in bombings that have killed seven people and injured 160 others since midsummer.
In addition to Bensaid, police arrested four other suspects, including two French citizens and an Algerian, Debre said. The identity of the fourth man was not immediately available.
Five other suspects questioned and released, the Interior Ministry said. French media had earlier reported a total of 15 arrests, which the ministry denied.
Debre said the probe further showed the ``international ramifications of this network installed in France with regards to its logistical and financial support.″ He did not elaborate.
The arrests bolstered investigators’ suspicions that the terrorist groups consist of Islamic sympathizers recruited in the troubled French suburbs where many jobless North African immigrants live, the Paris newspaper Le Monde reported.
Le Monde said police considered Bensaid an intermediary between various terrorist groups operating in France with ties to Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group, which is trying to overthrow the military-backed government in the North African country.
The group has claimed responsibility for some, but not all, of the eight bombings or attempts in France. It wants to punish France for what it considers French support for the government in Algeria and has demanded an end to French economic aid to its former colony.
France has launched a massive security operation, putting some 35,000 forces, including 5,000 military personnel, on the streets of Paris and other major cities.
Bensaid, followed by police for several days, was arrested in Paris’ wealthy 16th district during a sweep of Paris, Lille, Lyon, and Marseille.
Police arrested him as he gave orders to plant a bomb in a Lille market, Le Monde said.
Police said they discovered a homemade bomb in an apartment in Villeneuve-d’Asq near Lille. The apartment, according to Le Monde, had been rented recently and was being used as a meeting place for Islamic militants.
The bomb is similar to the ones used in the previous bombings _ a 29-pound gas canister filled with a variety of explosive substances and pieces of metal. Police also discovered a timing device made from an alarm clock.
The attack, which was still being prepared, was not to take place for several days, according to police sources quoted by French media.
Until today, French police had not arrested anyone in conjunction with the bombings.
The previous key suspect, Khaled Kelkal, was killed in a gun battle with police in a Lyon suburb. Kelkal’s fingerprints were found on a bomb that failed to explode along high-speed train tracks near Lyon and French police believe Bensaid was in contact with Kelkal’s group among others.
Le Monde said some of those arrested today were similar to the members of the Kelkal group _ relatively young people of Algerian origin or nationality with police records for small offenses.