Five men have been arrested in Rennes in France in connection with a suspected Islamist attack plot, authorities say. They are all French, of North African origin (Morocco-Algeria), a source told the AFP agency. The arrests came as the interior minister warned, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the US, that the threat in France remained high. Michele Alliot Marie also warned that Islamic radicals were using French prisons as recruitment bases.
PARIS, Sept 11 (Reuters) - France has arrested 55 militant Islamists this year and the country's prisons have become a favourite recruiting ground for such groups, Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said in an interview published on Thursday.
While some Islamists are still travelling to Iraq, Pakistani and Afghan networks have strengthened, and "training and indoctrination sites" are now concentrated in that area, Alliot-Marie said in an interview with French daily Le Figaro. "I can reveal that 89 Islamist activists were arrested in France in 2007, and that 55 others have been arrested on our soil since the start of the year," she said.
Prisons and some poor suburban neighbourhoods, many of which house large numbers of families of African and North African origin (Morocco), were among recruiting networks' favoured targets. "French prisons are a favoured recruiting ground for radical Islamists. That is one of my concerns," Alliot-Marie said. "I have just suggested to my European colleagues that we create a manual on Islamism in prisons, to better inform security professionals on how to detect and prevent this kind of recruitment."
The organisation of al Qaeda has evolved from a centralised structure to a loose web of cells, and the nature of their attacks has also changed, the interior minister said. "The terrorists have changed tactics. Several leaders of Gulf countries have told me that attacks organised long in advance are giving way to unplanned attacks of opportunity committed by individuals indoctrinated via the Internet," Alliot-Marie said. "
Sometimes they are not even part of a network. This new danger is therefore much harder to detect and follow." She also called for wider screening of air passengers. Currently, on flights from five countries including Pakistan and Yemen, the names and travel details of passengers who have been flagged as "dangerous" are sent to the French authorities in agreement with airlines, Alliot-Marie said. "We want to extend this measure to other countries and to flights with a stopover, which would prevent for example travelling via Switzerland when coming from Pakistan to cover your tracks." She said she also wanted to include information on whether passengers were accompanied.
Bill Warner...Private Investigator