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Japan arrests 4 in al Qaeda probe


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TOKYO, Japan -- Japanese police have arrested four people in connection with a probe into a French national with suspected links to al Qaeda.

Police say they hope they will find out more about the activities of Lionel Dumont, a French national of Algerian descent with suspected ties to the al Qaeda network.

He slipped into Japan in 2002 for nine months but was arrested in Germany last December.

"We've indeed got information that people of al Qaeda or those who are linked to al Qaeda had entered our country and that they had made contact with various people within Japan," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Wednesday.

"I am hoping that we will be able to seriously find out who exactly they were and what they were doing."

Police searched 10 locations on Wednesday following reports last week that Dumont had lived in Japan after entering the country on a false passport.

"It is most important that we protect ourselves ahead of time from international terrorist groups. We will be pay close attention to the results of the investigation before taking action," Hosoda said.

Dumont was believed to have been involved in delivering equipment and funds to al Qaeda during his stay in Japan, media reports have said.

Wednesday's investigation involved individuals with connections to Dumont, including a Bangladeshi man who police suspect has links to an Islamic group in Pakistan seeking independence for the Kashmir region, Japanese media said.

Police said they had arrested an Indian, a Malian and two Bangladeshis for violating immigration laws.

Referring to the Indian, a police official said: "We are aware of reports about his links to the French person and will try to find more about it through our investigation."

Television footage showed police officials at various buildings, including what were described as the homes of foreign Muslims and the office of a used car sales firm run by one of them.

Dumont, 33, had lived in Niigata, northwest of Tokyo, with his German wife and traveled frequently between Japan, Malaysia and Germany, media said.

Japanese police suspect that Dumont was trying to build up a base in Japan to support al Qaeda among a network of foreigners, Kyodo news agency said, adding that the police wanted to investigate their activities and cash transfers among them.

Dumont deposited and withdrew sums of several hundred thousand yen (100,000 yen equals $894) on about 45 occasions in a one-month period after he entered Japan in 2002, media reports have said.

Working with Pakistani colleagues, Dumont sold used cars to Russia and North Korea during his stay in Niigata, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper said.

Dumont had been wanted by Interpol in connection with various incidents including an attempted bomb attack against the Group of Seven summit in Lyon, France, in June 1996.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment by a French court in 2001 in his absence.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Japan has stepped up security at government offices and other key facilities and it has been on heightened alert since a letter purportedly from al Qaeda mentioned Japan as a possible target earlier this year.

Japan, a close ally of the United States, has sent some 550 ground troops to southern Iraqi on a non-combat mission to help rebuild Iraq.

CNN Correspondent Atika Shubert contributed to this report



Reuters contributed to this report.

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