Chechens arrested as alleged Paris accomplices charged

France remains on high alert in wake of Islamist attacks, writes Lara Marlowe

A man films  a building in Beziers, outside Montpellier, where a Russian Chechen suspected of preparing a terrorist attack was living before his arrest on Monday. Five Russian Chechens were placed under custody in Beziers and Saint-Jean-de-Vedas, outside Montpellier. Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty

A man films a building in Beziers, outside Montpellier, where a Russian Chechen suspected of preparing a terrorist attack was living before his arrest on Monday. Five Russian Chechens were placed under custody in Beziers and Saint-Jean-de-Vedas, outside Montpellier. Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty

 

Five Russians of Chechen origin were arrested in the Hérault department of southern France yesterday. Police said they discovered “extremely dangerous” explosives in their possession.

However, the prosecutor of Béziers, Yvon Calvet, warned against jumping to conclusions. The men, aged between 24 and 37, were already known to police for criminal activities, not for links to terrorism.

“There is no religious context,” Mr Calvet said.

The judiciary police were less categorical, saying it had “not yet been determined” if a terrorist plot was under way.

The anti-terrorist section of the police does not plan to take over the investigation “for the moment”, Mr Calvet added.

Neither a potential target nor the country where the explosives were intended to be used have been established.

One of the suspects was under police surveillance. He had been linked to an explosion near the university of Montpellier in 2008.

In Paris, the high court asked anti-terrorism magistrates to formally place four men who were arrested on January 16th under investigation for “association with a terrorist conspiracy to commit a terrorist act”.

Coulibaly’s entourage

The prosecutor asked for the four men, aged between 22 and 28, to be mis en examen, which is tantamount to formal charges, on 11 counts of murder and attempted murder; violence with firearms; theft; kidnapping; possession of dangerous weapons and explosives; and financing terrorism.

Authorities say they have evidence the suspects were actively and directly involved in the preparation of the attacks by Coulibaly, including DNA and fingerprints found in the car Coulibaly used to reach the supermarket; wire taps; and information obtained from four days of interrogation.

French police would also like to question Fritz-Joly Joachim, a Franco-Haitian convert to Islam who was arrested in Bulgaria and who was in contact with the gunman Cheerif Kouachi; Coulibaly’s wife, Hayat Boumediene, now believed to be in Syria; and Mehdi Belhoucine, who accompanied Boumediene on her journey. Belhoucine’s older brother Mohamed is in prison for sending fighters to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Video posting

Prime minister Manuel Valls yesterday gave the strongest signal yet that the government had recognised that failure to integrate immigrants was a cause of Islamist violence. Mr Valls spoke of “territorial, social and ethnic apartheid” as one of “the ills that gnaw at our country”.

In addition to “social impoverishment”, he said, “one must add daily discrimination because one doesn’t have the right surname, the right colour of skin, or because one is a woman”.