msnbc.com news services
updated 12/13/2005 12:41:32 PM ET 2005-12-13T17:41:32

French counterterrorism agents dismantled an Islamic network suspected of preparing terror attacks, arresting about 20 people in raids early Monday, police said.

Police described Monday’s events as a “major operation aimed at disbanding an Islamist network linked to terrorism”, conducted as part of a probe by Jean-Louis Bruguiere, France’s leading anti-terrorism investigating magistrate.

Among those arrested were individuals linked to previous terrorism investigations and common crime, the police statement said. Those detained remained in custody and police were searching a number of premises and Internet cafes.

Investigations were under way to determine the group’s precise objectives, it added.

The operation was carried out by the DST domestic intelligence service, detectives from the organized crime unit and members of the crack RAID intervention squad.

Militant target
Despite its strong opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, France remains the target of Islamist militants because of its intelligence links with the United States and Britain. It also has troops in Afghanistan helping to combat Islamic militants. The head of the French police service said last July that the GSPC, a radical Algerian Islamist group, had been in contact with al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, about launching attacks in North Africa and probably France.

France has been on red alert, the second highest security level, since Islamist suicide bombers killed more than 50 people in attacks on London transport on July 7.

Parliament is debating Interior Ministry Nicolas Sarkozy’s anti-terrorism bill, which includes a sharp increase in the use of closed circuit television surveillance, monitoring of mobile phone and Internet cafe connections.

It also extends to up to six days the period for which terror suspects can be held before being placed under official investigation, and tougher sentencing for terror-related offences.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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