PARIS – A man in French custody has told investigators he crossed paths in Afghanistan with Sept. 11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, shoe-bomb suspect Richard C. Reid and convicted terrorist Ahmed Ressam, officials said Monday.
Yacine Akhnouche, 27, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, has apparently talked freely to investigators about his past ties with Islamic militants like Moussaoui, the only person charged in connection with the Sept. 11 terror attacks, according to judicial officials and anti-terrorism investigators who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Akhnouche and two others arrested Feb. 4 around Paris were placed under investigation on Friday and suspected of a logistical role in a foiled plot to bomb a cathedral in Strasbourg, France during millennium celebrations.
Akhnouche made three trips to training camps in Afghanistan — in 1997, 1998 and 2000, investigators said. There, in 2000, he allegedly met Moussaoui, a Frenchman charged in the United States with aiding the Sept. 11 hijackers. He also met Reid, who was arrested after allegedly trying to ignite explosives in his sneakers on a Paris-Miami flight.
Also, on a trip to Afghanistan in 1998, Akhnouche met Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian convicted in the millennium bombing plot in the United States, the officials said.
"He talked a lot," said one investigating magistrate. "Akhnouche confirmed a certain number of things that we already knew, or supposed," he said, adding that Reid told American investigators that he never went to Afghanistan, just to Pakistan.
Akhnouche also implicated a man known as Abu Doha, jailed in Britain, in the Strasbourg Cathedral plot.
The plot was foiled after German police discovered video footage of the cathedral and marketplace during a raid on an apartment. Four people were arrested in Frankfurt, and other suspects were arrested in France, Spain and Belgium.
Abu Doha, also known as Amar Makhlulif, is a London-based Algerian wanted by U.S. officials in connection with the plot to blow up the Los Angeles airport during millennium celebrations. Makhlulif, who is awaiting extradition, has been portrayed in a U.S. grand jury indictment as a key figure in Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network who ran an Algerian terrorism cell.
Akhnouche claimed that Abu Doha steered young Islamic militants toward Afghanistan's training camps, the judicial officials said.
Akhnouche has also provided information on Abu Zubaydah, top military operations chief in Al Qaeda, as well as information on a man identified as Abu Jafar. It was unclear whether he is the same man as Abu Jafar al-Jaziri, an Al Qaeda finance and logistics chief who was apparently killed in bombing raids by the U.S.-led coalition.
In addition, Akhnouche provided names of people in France linked to the assassination of Afghan resistance leader Ahmed Shah Massood just days before the Sept. 11 attacks, investigators said.
Two men were placed under investigation in Paris in mid-January on suspicion of providing support to the assassins, who posed as journalists, and it was not immediately clear whether the names matched.
Among items found at Akhnouche's residence was an address book noting the name of Djamel Beghal, a prime suspect in a foiled plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Paris. Beghal was arrested at the Abu Dhabi airport on his way back from Central Asia and is now jailed in France.
Experts also were studying chemical formulas found in Akhnouche's residence, investigators said. Akhnouche had reportedly once been a chemistry student.