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Updated Tuesday June 20, 2000
Gun guard on French soccer stars
By Steve Stammers and John Sturgis

The French squad, which includes six England based football stars, are being protected by armed guards today after police uncovered a plot by Islamic terrorists to attack Euro 2000.

The squad, including Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira of Arsenal and Marcel Desailly, Frank Leboeuf and Didier Deschamps of Chelsea, are being guarded by members of the RAID anti-terrorist squad.

The plot came to light when Dutch police intercepted mobile phone calls made by known Islamic terrorists from inside French prisons to a gang of fellow backers of the notorious Armed Islamic Group (GIA), one of Algeria's most radical and violent gangs.

As a result of intelligence gleaned from the calls, three prisoners in France have been questioned and a further three men were arrested in Holland yesterday, said Dutch Justice Ministry spokesman Eric Stolwijk. It is not yet clear what the gang's target was but extra security has been brought in to protect world champions France.

It is feared star French midfielder, Zinedine Zidane, the hero of the 1998 World Cup and of Algerian origin, could be one of the players most at risk, a police source said.

A spokesman for Paris judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, heading the investigation, said: 'The GIA are a known and deeply-feared terrorist group. We are taking this warning from the Dutch police very seriously.'

A spokesman for the French team, in training today at their base in Genval, near Brussels, ahead of their match against Holland in Amsterdam tomorrow, said they are 'not worried' by the threat. However, RAID members are counter-terrorist specialists and their presence indicated the Dutch and Belgian authorities are also taking the threat seriously.

Security sources in France said that three prisoners were involved. They were Adel Mechat, an Algerian serving six years for membership of a terrorist group, Nasserdine Slimani, a Frenchman of Algerian origin serving eight years for his part in a bloody GIA bombing campaign that hit France five years ago, and Mohamed Kerrouche, an Algerian serving eight years for membership of the banned group.

A French security source said: 'We are taking this seriously. Three men are being held in connection with this threat.' In Holland, Mr Stolwijk said the three men arrested there 'are suspected of participating in a criminal organisation - they are suspected in connection with Euro 2000'.

M Bruguiere is France's leading anti-terror-ist expert. The last World Cup was the subject of several threats of disruption from North African terrorist groups and numerous arrests were made before the tournament.

Thousands were evacuated from the Paris suburb of La Sante when a bomb was found but it was not clear who planted it.

Euro 2000 spokesman Jan De Grave said today: 'We cannot comment on the particular circumstances of these arrests but obviously we are bound to take seriously any threat made against the tournament or the teams participating in it.'

The GIA is a terror-ist splinter group of the Islamic Salvation Front, a Muslim fundamentalist party ousted from the Algerian parliament in an election in 1988.

For the past 12 years it has waged a guerrilla war against Algeria's civilian population, killing an estimated 10,000 people. The GIA is also suspected of planting bombs which killed 29 and injured dozens in France between 1995 and 1996.

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