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13 held in Paris anti-terror raids

One of the 15 suspects in custody

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PARIS, France -- French police have detained 13 people suspected of belonging to a militant Moroccan Islamic group accused of carrying out last month's Madrid train bombings, authorities said.

The 13 were seized in a series of dawn raids Monday in the suburbs of Paris. They are suspected of having links with last year's suicide bomb attacks in Casablanca, Morocco, officials said.

"Thirteen people have been held in custody. They are suspected of being members of the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group," Reuters quoted a statement from the French Interior Ministry as saying.

The Associated Press also quoted Paris prosecutor Yves Bot as saying the detainees are suspected of belonging to the group, known by the acronym GCIM.

However, Bot and the ministry said there was no indication the suspects were themselves connected with the March 11 attacks in Madrid that killed at least 190 people.

"These operations follow long investigations carried out by the DST (counter-intelligence network) in cooperation with its foreign partners. They have no link with the recent attacks in the Spanish capital," the ministry statement said.

GCIM is a shadowy organization believed to be tied to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes has named GCIM as the prime suspect in the Madrid bombings. Eleven of the 15 people charged in the train bombings are Moroccans.

Monday's raids, which targeted eight locations around Paris, were conducted on orders of two French anti-terrorism judges, Jean-Louis Bruguiere and Jean-Francois Ricard, AP said.

The raids in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a suburb east of Paris, and Mantes-la-Jolie, west of the capital, began at about 6 a.m. (0400 GMT), Reuters quoted judicial sources as saying.

One person was detained at Charles de Gaulle airport as he tried to leave the country, Bot said. Two other people were released after being detained in the raids, Reuters reported.

The raids were ordered as part of an investigation into the May 2003 suicide attacks in Casablanca, that killed 45 people, including 12 bombers, authorities said. At least one of the victims was French.

The identities of the suspects were not released. Under French law, they can be held in detention for up to 96 hours without being formally placed under investigation -- the final step before formal charges can be pressed.

France, with a large Muslim minority of about 5 million, has been on high alert following the Madrid attacks.

On March 24, a railway worker found a bomb half-buried on the main train line between Paris and Switzerland. French authorities also have received threats in letters from a self-proclaimed Islamic group whose authenticity is in doubt, Reuters said.

Another group demanding cash said it had planted bombs on the French railway before suspending its threats last month. The group, calling itself AZF, said it would improve its methods and then could stage an attack more deadly than the Madrid bombings, Reuters said.

French police have also arrested several suspected leaders of the Basque separatist group ETA in recent weeks. They found what they believe was an ETA arms factory and a large supply of weapons on a farm in southwestern France on Sunday.

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