French authorities have arrested the administrator of an extremist French website who is suspected of playing a key role in financing and recruiting for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in several countries, the Paris prosecutor’s office has said
The announcement on Tuesday was unusually dramatic for French authorities, but it did not spell out what evidence has been culled or how much money may have been involved.
It is the first publicly announced suspected terrorist arrest since President Francois Hollande took office in May.
The suspect – whom prosecutors call a “formidable financier of the bloodiest terrorist groups” – was being questioned on Tuesday by anti-terrorism judge Marc Trevidic in Paris.
The man faces preliminary charges of planning terrorist acts and financing a terrorist enterprise, the prosecutor’s office said.
The man, born in Tunisia in 1977, was based in the southern French city of Toulon. He was arrested on Friday after a yearlong investigation, the prosecutor’s statement said. It did not give his name.
‘Serious and concordant evidence’
The prosecutor cited “serious and concordant evidence” that the suspect sent material from his computer to terrorist groups. It says he played a “central role” in collecting funds for terrorist groups to buy weapons, but did not elaborate on how much money was involved.
Prosecutors say he is suspected of acting as a financier and recruiter for al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa), Fatah al Islam and the Islamic State of Iraq, among other groups.
Investigators studied thousands of email messages and analysed a “considerable mass” of data, prosecutors said.
They called it an exceptionally advanced example of “the use of the Internet for terrorist ends in the domain of radical Islam.”
French authorities are sometimes criticised for being too zealous in rounding up terrorist suspects and arrests do not always result in convictions.
On the other hand, French authorities are also sometimes criticised for not acting fast enough.
That was the case with Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman, killed in a standoff with police in March after allegedly killing three Jewish school children, a rabbi, and three paratroopers in a rampage in southern France.
Those were the country’s worst attacks since the 1990s.