French Officials Detail "Big Coup" Bust of Key Al-Qaeda Enabler
One email confirmed receipt of money used to buy Kalashnikov machine guns. Another message expressed thanks for funds that went to the purchase rocket launchers. Still other missives discussed the recruitment and transport of volunteers to jihad, or sent information about traveling government officials who might be vulnerable targets for terrorist attacks. And those are just a few of countless internet exchanges French security officials are now pouring over following the arrest of a man accused of being a key enabler of communications between extremist groups allied to al-Qaeda around the globe.
"This a very big coup, not only because of what we know from messages we've read, but because there are just so many more still waiting to be unencrypted and examined," says a senior French counter-terrorism official, referring to the June 29 arrest of a 35 year-old Tunisian man in the southern city Toulon for suspected terror activity. "Here's a guy who, as administrator of one of the biggest radical websites on earth, was the conduit of messages between the main jihadi groups in Yemen, Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, And we've got his files. It's a big deal."
News of the arrest was revealed July 3 by French prosecutors, who claim they've established that the suspect had been involved in a range of activities on behalf of al-Qaeda-linked organizations. Those allegedly included overseeing secure internet communications, raising funds; recruitment and transport of aspiring jihadi for indoctrination and military training; and providing information about bomb-building and potential targets. Following his questioning Tuesday by Marc Trévidic, France's leading magistrate in terrorism cases, the suspect was placed under official investigation for association with terror groups and related charges--a step akin to being charged under French law.
According to French authorities who spoke with TIME, the suspect's web activities shuttled encrypted messages between groups that included al-Qaeda's core in Pakistan; the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); North Africa's al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon, and others. French security officials described the Tunisian as the hub of the internet-based wheel of communications that extremists used to stealthily exchange information with one another. (...)