Man says he was recruited by bin Landen for attack on embassy

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Associated Press WriterPARIS (AP) -- A French-Algerian man has provided authorities with intricate details of a plot to carry out a suicide mission against the U.S. Embassy in Paris, saying he was recruited by Osama bin Laden's deputy and told the time to act had come, officials said Tuesday.

Djamel Beghal, 35, a French-Algerian, was extradited to France from the United Arab Emirates on Sunday and questioned in connection with an alleged terrorist ring.

During initial discussions with French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere last month in Dubai, Beghal outlined the plot for a suicide mission against the U.S. Embassy in Paris that was to be carried out before March of next- year, according to court officials, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity.

He said an attack was also planned for an American cultural center but embassy officials said Tuesday there is no such center.

The embassy declined to comment on the alleged plot other than to say in a statement: "This is part of an ongoing investigation by French authorities, in whom we have full confidence."

Late Tuesday, Beghal's lawyer, Fabrice Dubest, said that during questioning in Paris on Monday, his client had denied receiving orders to attack the U.S. Embassy or a cultural center.

Judicial officials acknowledged they had confused Beghal's testimony in Dubai with accounts from Monday's questioning but they were still taking very seriously Beghal's original testimony detailing the plot.

According to the plan, another man -- Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian who was arrested Sept. 13 in Belgium -- was to penetrate the embassy, strapped with explosives, while a minivan was to be detonated outside the cultural section, Beghal said.

Beghal told the French judge that he had signed a pact in March with bin Laden's deputy, Abu Zubaydah, in Afghanistan, where he trained in a camp run by bin Laden's al-Qaida organization. Al-Qaida deposited money for the operation in a Moroccan bank account.

According to French officials, Beghal said the meeting with Abu Zubaydah took place in bin Laden's home, but he said he never met bin Laden himself. Abu Zubaydah told him that he should undertake the operation in order to be a good Muslim, Beghal said.

Europe-1 radio reported that Beghal said that Abu Zubaydah "told me that the time to act had come. He asked me if I was ready, and I said yes."

Beghal's job in the plot was apparently to gather information and study the embassy's security plans, French officials said.

The operation never materialized because Beghal was arrested July 28 in Dubai with a false French passport.

Officials in Dubai obtained Beghal's confession, in part, by calling in religious leaders to convince him that the right thing to do was reveal the plot.

Beghal apparently told the French judge he had recruited others into bin Laden's organization in Britain, where he frequented mosques in London and in Leicester. Judicial officials said that Beghal now renounces bin Laden's cause.

Beghal was the second person extradited to France in two days in connection with the plot against U.S. interests. Kamel Daoudi, 27, also a French-Algerian, was extradited from Britain on Saturday. Radio reports have said the two were related.

An investigation into the plot was opened in France on Sept. 10 -- a day before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Bruguiere traveled last week to the United Arab Emirates to question Beghal.

Authorities have now tied Beghal to others arrested in the Netherlands, where four people have been arrested, and in Belgium, where two arrests were made, one of them Trabelsi.

In addition, six Algerians arrested in Spain and ordered held without bail Friday had direct links with others arrested in Europe in connection with the plot to attack U.S. interests on the continent, Spanish officials said.

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