PARIS – A baggage handler arrested at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport had a mini-arsenal of weapons stashed in the trunk of his car, including explosive devices ready to be used, police officials said Monday.
Abdrazak Besseghir, a 27-year-old French man of Algerian origin, was arrested late Saturday after police searched his car and found in the trunk an automatic handgun, a machine gun, five bars of plastic explosives and two detonators, officials said on condition of anonymity. The explosive devices were ready to be ignited.
Police were notified by a caller who spotted Besseghir standing at the trunk of his car with one of the guns Saturday morning. Police watched him throughout the day and stopped Besseghir when he returned to his car that afternoon in the airport's parking lot.
As a baggage handler, Besseghir has security clearance for several restricted areas of Charles de Gaulle airport, one of Europe's busiest and the point of departure last year for shoe-bomber Richard Reid.
Anti-terrorism prosecutors opened an investigation into the case immediately after the arrest. Besseghir was being detained in the anti-terrorism section of Paris' police headquarters and can be held up to four days without being placed under investigation or formally charged.
During questioning, Besseghir refused to explain the presence of weapons in his trunk, saying he suspected "a plot" against him, said an official close to the investigation.
Police said Besseghir had no previous record apart from a vandalism incident in 1997 and is not known to have ties to militant Islamic groups.
The suspect's home in the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis was searched , and police detained his father, two brothers and a family friend after questioning.
The arrest comes just days after the Interior Ministry announced it had dismantled a terror cell with ties to Chechen rebels and Al Qaeda that planned bomb or toxic gas attacks in France and Russia.
A total of nine people were arrested in half a dozen raids by France's counterintelligence agency, the DST, in suburban Paris.
Among suspected targets were the Russian Embassy in Paris and Russians in the breakaway republic of Chechnya, the ministry said.
On alert for possible terror strikes during the holiday season, the French government has increased police presence in public areas such as department stores, train stations and airports.
As part of an effort to reinforce airport security following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, French authorities ran background checks on some 80,000 airport employees and, as a result, revoked security badges from some 200 people, the Parisien newspaper reported Monday.
Charles de Gaulle airport has installed new explosives-detecting machines and added bomb-sniffing dogs as part of new airport security measures.
Richard Reid, a British citizen and Al Qaeda sympathizer, has pleaded guilty to trying to blow up a Paris-to-Miami flight he boarded at Charles de Gaulle airport last December. Reid had explosives hidden in his sneakers and was spotted as he tried to light the fuse.
Reid, 29, is in a state prison in Walpole, Mass., and will be sentenced next month. He faces between 60 years and life in prison.