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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

France Ties Suspects to Chechnya

PARIS -- Four self-avowed Islamic militants arrested in France in possession of possible bomb-making materials were planning one or several terror attacks in Europe, French authorities said Friday.

Investigators believe the suspects were close to a terror cell based in Frankfurt, Germany, that allegedly has ties to the al-Qaida network, and had spent time in Chechnya. The Interior Ministry said two of the four suspects told investigators that they had received training in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge and met with Chechen rebel leaders.

The suspects were arrested last Monday in an apartment in a tough Paris suburb by security agents acting on orders from France's top counterterrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere. On Friday night, the four were formally put under investigation -- a procedural step just short of filing charges -- for "criminal association in connection with a terrorist enterprise," judicial sources said.

In the Monday apartment raid, agents found suspected electronic components that could serve as detonators and chemicals used in the making of electronic circuits, the Interior Ministry said. The raid also turned up a suit to protect against nuclear, chemical and biological attacks, a video camera, two empty gas canisters and fake ID papers.

The ministry said in a statement that the discoveries indicated the danger posed by the suspects "who, after having gone to Chechnya, had come back with an intention of carrying out violent actions in Europe." Under questioning, the suspects did not confess to planning an attack, the statement said, adding, however, "there is no doubt, given the elements found, that one or several terrorist actions were being prepared in the more or less short term."

The ministry named one of the suspects as Merouane Benhamed. It said Benhamed was a former leader of Algerian fighters and a veteran of conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya, without elaborating. The arrests followed a French investigation into Chechen networks, the ministry said.

The Kremlin's spokesman on Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said Friday the arrests shored up Russia's argument that Chechen rebels are an inseparable part of international terror networks.