Trained Extremists Heading to Europe: Security Sources

A group of 25 Islamist extremists is planning to return to Europe after combat training in the Afghan-Pakistani border regions, French intelligence officials said on Wednesday, citing a US tip-off.

The warning came at a time of high alert for possible attacks in European countries following warnings by several countries.

“A group of 25 young people trained in combat” after travelling from their homes in Europe to the region, considered a hotbed of violent extremism, plan to head back again possibly via Turkey, one intelligence source told AFP.

The source said US intelligence services alerted their counterparts in Europe to the group’s activities “a few weeks” ago and the warning was reiterated by British authorities.

One French official said the group of 25 has experience of fighting in the lawless border region where US-led forces are trying to root out leaders of the Al-Qaeda network, and could be able to organise other extremists in Europe.

These people are the “main worry” of Western security services, said one official.

On Tuesday French police arrested 12 people and seized guns in anti-terror raids.

Police from France’s anti-terrorism squad made nine arrests in the southern port of Marseille and in nearby Avignon. On Wednesday they named one of the suspects as Fouad Sabour, 45, known to police as an Islamist extremist linked to previous attacks.

In a separate operation Tuesday, French police arrested three men after finding their numbers in the mobile phone of Ryad Hannouni, a 28-year-old of Algerian origin, who was picked up Saturday in the Italian city of Naples allegedly carrying a bomb-making kit.

Officials said investigators wanted to question him on suspected links to militants coming to Europe from Afghanistan. Hannouni had reportedly travelled from tribal zones around the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Police said the three arrested in the second French raid were not themselves being held on terrorism charges and had suspected links with organised crime.

Western security officials have warned that Al-Qaeda may be planning attacks in Europe similar to those that struck Mumbai in 2008.

In that assault, 10 militants from the Al-Qaeda-linked group Lashkar-e-Taiba mowed down unarmed civilians at targets across the Indian city after arriving by boat from Karachi, leaving 166 dead.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said Tuesday that “all the Western countries are today aware of the reality of the threat” of attacks, adding that it “should neither be underestimated nor over-estimated.”

He was due to meet his counterparts from other European countries on Thursday on the issue. Hortefeux said he hoped Hannouni would be extradited to France on October 21.

Japan and Sweden on Monday followed Britain and the United States by issuing travel warnings for their citizens about a possible Al-Qaeda attack on landmark sites in Europe.

The US State Department said in its alert on Sunday that attackers may use “a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests” in Europe.

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