PARIS (Reuters) - French police, on heightened alert for potential terrorist attacks, have arrested two people on suspicion of links to terrorist groups, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said on Thursday.
“These are serious counts. They are being questioned at this moment,” Hortefeux told France 2 television. “They were arrested for (suspicion of) links to a criminal enterprise with a view to preparing a terrorist act.”
He said 85 arrests of a similar kind had been made since the start of the year and that 27 of those were still behind bars.
Asked if the two arrested were planning an attack in France, Hortefeux replied: “That’s what we will find out or not from what they say in the custody hearing.”
Governments, airlines and aviation authorities around the world have been reviewing security since U.S.-bound parcel bombs sent by air from Yemen were intercepted in Dubai and Britain at the end of last week.
“I can tell you for example that one of these packages was defused just 17 minutes before the planned explosion time,” Hortefeux said.
“Yemen is an extremely sensitive country, clearly. We know that in this part of the world there’s a strong surge of al Qaeda, of Islamic militancy,” he added, without saying which of the bombs he was referring to or giving other details.
France is on high alert for several reasons.
Seven people, including five French citizens, were kidnapped by the North African wing of al Qaeda in September and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden said in a message aired on Al Jazeera TV on October 27 that the kidnappings in Niger had been prompted by France’s unjust treatment of Muslims.
Before the two new arrests announced by Hortefeux, French police arrested 12 people in early October in swoops he said at the time were directly linked to a campaign to counter an elevated terrorism threat in Europe.
“There has undoubtedly been a build-up of information that has prompted us to be particularly vigilant,” Hortefeux said.
France had to be on the watch on several fronts including the risk posed by Basque separatist group ETA, and now a spate of parcel bomb incidents in Greece that police there consider unconnected to al Qaeda.
“And there’s the Islamic militant threat, which is strong and is real,” he said.
Hortefeux said France was now planning extra steps to “profile” airline passengers from certain countries.
The Eiffel Tower and surrounding area was evacuated in late September and again shortly after that. Security officials said at the time France had received a tip-off of a planned suicide attack on the Paris metro.
Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Charles Dick