France arrests 12 as concerns grow about 'homegrown' terrorism

France arrested 12 suspects in three cities. Western governments are focusing on 'homegrown' terrorism amid concerns that Al Qaeda is tapping sympathizers with citizenship in Western countries.

By , Correspondent

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    A soldier patrols at Gare du Nord train station in Paris, France, Oct. 4. French police arrested a total of 12 people in two separate raids in southern France on Tuesday.
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French police arrested a total of 12 people in two separate raids in southern France Tuesday as part of the country's current counterterrorism campaign, according to the French Interior Ministry.

One raid in Marseilles and Avignon led to nine arrests and a seizure of guns and ammunition by the French police, Agence France-Presse reported. In another operation, three men were arrested, two in Marseilles and one in Bordeaux, after their contact information was found in the cellphone of a French-Algerian man arrested in Italy this weekend with a bombmaking kit, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.

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Western governments are concerned that Al Qaeda is turning to sympathizers who hold citizenship in Western countries to assist Al Qaeda operatives in carrying out terrorist attacks in Western Europe. The nine arrested in Marseilles and Avignon were suspected of trafficking arms and explosives. The search for weapons, which is continuing, has so far turned up at least one Kalashnikov automatic rifle, a pump-action shotgun, two knives, and ammunition. Three other men arrested in Marseilles and Bordeaux are suspected of offering housing and false identity papers to foreigners trying to enter France, The New York Times reported.

All of those arrested are reported to have ties to radical Islamic groups, although no one has said the arrests are linked, the Times reported.

The arrests come after the US issued a travel alert for Western Europe over the weekend, concerned that there is an increased likelihood of attack. France has said that it is on "high alert" and faces a serious threat of attack, Al Jazeera reported.

Brice Hortefeux, the French interior minister, said the threat of an attack in the country was "real."

"Yes, there is a terrorist threat at the moment in Europe. It must be neither overestimated nor underestimated," he said. "The threat is real, our vigilance is total and every French person must know that we're doing everything to ensure their security and their protection."

French intelligence has issued warnings about Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, an arm of Al Qaeda that is based in North Africa and is considered a graver threat than Osama bin Laden in many European capitals, Radio France International reported.

France has been especially on edge since last week, when it was disclosed that US, German, French, and British intelligence had thwarted Al Qaeda plans for a Mumbai-style terror attack on European cities. France has also recently received warnings that an attack on the public transit system is likely, The Christian Science Monitor reported last week.

The terror warnings have put Europe on alert and caused France, which prides itself in taking something of a phlegmatic view of the threat of terrorism, to increase its terror alert to “red plus” – the second-highest level. France's uncharacteristic caution could signal the seriousness of recent threats, say security analysts, and suggests a new attitude emerging in France toward security.

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