France: Terror suspect's arrest a 'coup'

July 5, 2012 at 4:19 PM
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PARIS, July 5 (UPI) -- French authorities say they arrested the man who ran a Web site serving as a conduit for messages between al-Qaida groups in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

In an interview with Time magazine, anti-terrorism officials said they have decoded messages involving money movements. One message confirmed that funds to buy Kalashnikovs [assault rifles] had arrived and another sent thanks for the wherewithal to purchase rocket grenade launchers.

"This a very big coup, not only because of what we know from messages we've read, but because there are just so many more still waiting to be unencrypted and examined," a senior official said. "Here's a guy who, as administrator of one of the biggest radical websites on earth, was the conduit of messages between the main jihadi groups in Yemen, Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, And we've got his files. It's a big deal."

The suspect, a 35-year-old Tunisian, was arrested last Friday in Toulon on the Mediterranean coast, a site of important French naval operations. The arrest was announced Tuesday.

"About three-quarters of the messages we discovered were encrypted, which avoided detection while he recruited people, raised funds in appeals over the net, or relayed requests or alerts between extremist groups," the counter-terrorism official told Time. "That could be a tip that a Saudi minister was about to arrive in Yemen, and may be vulnerable to attack. That money was needed for a plot or arms procurement. That recruits were on the way somewhere for training and deployment -- the works."

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