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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Algeria busts North African Qaeda arms ring-paper

ALGIERS, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Algerian police have dismantled a network suspected of funnelling weapons to an al Qaeda branch in North Africa, a newspaper said on Saturday.

The busted ring included French, Tunisian and Algerian nationals and was believed to supply the Al Qaeda Organisation of Islamic Maghreb, the daily Liberte said, citing unnamed sources.

A French national, two Tunisians and 24 Algerians were in custody in the eastern town of Constantine after they were arrested by police following a search operation there.

Police raided a safe house in Constantine, 430 km (268 miles) from Algiers, on Feb.11 and seized 165 shotguns, 995 cartridges and 30,300 euros, the newspaper added.

A 30-year-old Tunisan is suspected to be the network's financier and a French national named as Alain-Roger Raphael was believed to have smuggled the arms on a camper van from the eastern port of Skikda, the daily said.

Police believed another French national, still on the run along with 13 other members of the network, supplied the weapons. There was no immediate confirmation of its account from the authorities.

The daily said the main purchaser of the arms was The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which has claimed responsibility for seven bomb attacks on Feb. 13 in two provinces east of the capital Algiers.

Six people were killed in the attacks, which took place a few weeks after a bomb on a bus carrying foreign oil workers near Algiers killed two people and wounded eight.

GSPC recently adopted the name of Al Qaeda Organisation of Islamic Maghreb after Osama Bin Laden approved the name change, the group has said on a Web site used by Islamists. Islamists began an armed revolt in 1992 after the then military-backed authorities, fearing an Iran-style revolution, scrapped a parliamentary election that an Islamist political party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), was set to win.

Up to 200,000 people were killed in the ensuing bloodshed. The violence has sharply subsided in the past few years.
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