PARIS – Islamic militants under investigation for allegedly planning an attack on the Russian Embassy in Paris had other targets on their list, including the Eiffel Tower (search), police and judicial officials said Wednesday.
Three men, all Algerians, were detained Jan. 11 in connection with an investigation into a network of Islamic radicals supporting Chechen rebels, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
More than 20 people have been jailed in a series of arrests since December 2002 as part of an investigation into the network. The investigation revealed an alleged plot against the Russian Embassy and a planned chemical attack.
On Wednesday, judicial officials confirmed the three arrests, which were first reported by the daily Le Parisien. The newspaper said attacks in Britain were also allegedly planned and that those arrested in France had links to a group of Islamic radicals in Spain.
According to judicial officials, the three men said among the targets was the veritable symbol of France, the Eiffel Tower. Also targeted were a clothing store in the central Paris district of Les Halles, which is a commuter link packed with people, Israeli interests and police stations, officials said.
Money from a French network making false papers was allegedly taken to Spain to finance sending Islamic combatants to Chechnya, the paper reported without citing sources.
Separately, the trial of six men accused of targeting the U.S. Embassy in Paris ended Wednesday. The men denied plans for a suicide attack on the embassy and insisted they were simply friends, not a terror group.
"I sleep well and I'm tranquil because I have done nothing wrong," the alleged ringleader, Djamel Beghal, told the court. "I have no network. I have friends."
The verdict in that case — not connected to the Chechnya investigation — was deferred until March 15.
More than 20 people have been arrested in France in the two-year investigation into the alleged network supporting Chechen rebels. Officials have claimed some of the arrests stopped a chemical attack in France.
Investigators believe the heart of the network was dismantled in December 2002 with the arrests of nine suspects in two Paris suburbs.
Three of those suspects trained with rebels and met "high-level Al Qaeda operatives" in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge (search), near its border with Russia, the Interior Ministry said at the time.
Among the top suspects is Menad Benchellali (search) whose brother, Mourad, was held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba, but was among four prisoners returned in July to France, where he remains jailed. His father, an imam, or Muslim prayer leader, his mother and another brother were placed under investigation in January 2004.
The raids leading to the initial arrests turned up chemical formulas for explosives and a substance that, when subjected to heat or put in contact with water, would let off a highly toxic gas, judicial officials have said. Lists of chemicals and their price and a suit to protect against chemical attacks were among other items found.