French police find bomb material in terror probe

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Associated Press

Posted on October 10, 2012 at 7:04 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 10 at 7:32 AM

PARIS (AP) — French police discovered bomb-making materials in an underground parking lot near Paris as part of a probe of an "extremely dangerous terrorist cell" linked to an attack on a kosher grocery, a state prosecutor said Wednesday.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said the discovery late Tuesday in Torcy, east of the capital, led authorities to invoke a rarely used legal clause to allow them to extend questioning of the 12 suspects by a day — and possibly two.

Authorities have been on high alert for possible terror attacks by radical Islamists after a man who claimed links to al-Qaida shot and killed three Jewish children, a rabbi and three paratroopers in southern France in March.

Investigators were led to the parking lot through information collected during questioning of the suspects, who were arrested in weekend raids across France in a probe of a firebombing of the grocery north of Paris last month, Molins said.

Authorities believe the two organizers of the Sept. 19 grenade attack in Sarcelles are in custody, Molins said. However, he suggested that the two people who actually carried it out could still be at large.

"When there is a serious risk of the imminence of a terrorist action in France, police custody — after 96 hours — can be extended by 24 hours," Molins told reporters at the downtown Paris courthouse.

It was only the second such extension since a 2006 revision to France's powerful anti-terrorism legislation. In most terrorism cases, police can detain suspects for questioning for up to four days before preliminary charges are filed or the suspects are released for a lack of enough evidence to merit prosecution.

In Torcy, investigators recovered bags of potassium nitrate, sulfur, saltpeter, headlight bulbs and a pressure cooker — "all products or instruments useful to make what are called 'improvised explosive devices,'" Molins said.

"We can say that we are clearly and objectively facing an extremely dangerous terrorist cell," he said.

Masked police investigators, backed by riot police, returned to the apartment building and underground lot in Torcy to continue poring over the contents Wednesday.

On Saturday, police found weapons, cash and a list of Paris-area Israeli associations after the raids conducted in eastern Strasbourg, near the Riviera resort of Cannes, and in the Paris area — including Torcy. In Strasbourg, police shot dead Jeremie Louis-Sidney, whom they suspect to be the cell's leader, after he opened fire at them with a revolver.

Molins said Saturday that the suspects in custody were French and recent converts to Islam. Four of the men involved in the raid had written wills. One was carrying a loaded gun when arrested.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira said the prosecutor and police investigators were conducting their work "with the necessary seriousness and meticulousness, clearly in respect of our state of law."

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Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Nicolas Garriga in Torcy, France, contributed to this report.

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