French agents arrest suspects allegedly linked with al-Qaida

French counterterrorism agents on Thursday arrested three suspects believed to have "indirect links" to al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a police spokeswoman said. The roundup near Paris was connected to a similar sweep Monday near the capital and in the northern Oise region that netted 25 suspects, national police spokeswoman Catherine Casteran said.

During the overnight sweep, police found a stash of weapons in a garage in the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, said a police investigator who cannot be identified because his agency does not allow it. They found several kilograms of explosives, AK-47 and Famas assault rifles, revolvers, ammunition, balaclavas and bulletproof vests, he said.

Investigators believe the weapons were used to carry out armed robberies in France to finance jihad, or holy war, and that some of the funds may have gone to al-Zarqawi's group.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking in parliament on Wednesday, described a web of links between the alleged network in France, which police say included both Islamic militants and common criminals, and other terror cells and groups, including al-Zarqawi's. The police investigator said one member of the group under investigation was in contact with a middleman who was himself in contact with al-Zarqawi. The middleman was killed last spring in either Syria or Iraq, he said.

After questioning the group since Monday, investigators now believe the network was focusing on carrying out armed robberies to finance operations and have found no solid proof to confirm their original suspicion that the group was planning terror attacks of its own, reports the AP. I.L.

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