Swiss Intel Foiled Terror Attack on Israeli Airliner, Prosecutors Say

Swiss intelligence services foiled a terrorist plot to shoot down an Israeli plane over Geneva, the Federal Prosecutor's Office said Thursday.

Seven people of North African origin are under arrest in Switzerland in connection with the plan, said a statement from the prosecutor's office. Swiss officials declined to give further details.

The arrests of suspected terror cell members in Switzerland were part of the broader takedown of a European network that helped finance the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, an Algerian group said to have links to Al Qaeda, the Paris prosecutor's office said in a statement.

CountryWatch: Switzerland

Israeli media reported last month that the Swiss cell planned a rocket attack on an El Al plane that would take off from Geneva in December 2005. The discovery of the plot prompted the airline to move its flights to Zurich for a week.

Denying some media reports, the Swiss prosecutor said Thursday that federal police had not confiscated rocket-propelled grenade launchers, surface-to-air missiles or explosives.

The Paris prosecutor's office said French authorities had taken six suspected Islamic militants into custody Tuesday in the Paris area, the eastern Alsace region and the southern port city of Marseille in connection with the Swiss investigation.

Most of the Swiss suspects were taken into custody in May, though one was arrested Tuesday, the Paris prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The group carried out thefts in Switzerland and sent the money to the Salafist group in Algeria via France, it said.

"Those who were arrested in Switzerland maintained contact with similar cells in France and Spain, which were likewise smashed," the Swiss statement said.

Authorities have said an Al Qaeda cell attempted to shoot down an Israeli airliner over Kenya in 2002 at the same time as a suicide bombing that killed 15 people at an Israeli-owned Kenyan hotel. The same Al Qaeda cell is believed responsible for the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 231 people.

One of the members of the Swiss cell had been in contact with Abderrahmane Tahiri, who also goes by Mohamed Achraf, and faces trial in Spain for an alleged 2004 plot to carry out a massive truck bombing against Madrid's National Court, the hub of the country's anti-terror investigations, officials said.

Tahiri was extradited from Switzerland in April 2005.

A Spanish National Court official said a judge ordered the jailing Thursday of Algerian Salah Edinne Berkoun, who is believed to have once led a southern Spanish cell suspected of financing and giving logistical support to the Salafist Group for Call and Combat. That cell was broken up in December and seized documents helped French and Swiss authorities make the latest arrests, the court official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Spanish police still are seeking three others in connection with the cell.