Japanese police arrested five foreigners on Wednesday after carrying out their first raids in a widening probe of suspected al Qaeda activities centering on a French national who spent over a year in Japan.
Police searched 10 locations following media reports last week that Lionel Dumont, who was arrested in Germany last December, was trying to build up a base in Japan to support al Qaeda among a network of foreigners in the country.
Dumont, a French national of Algerian descent, is suspected of being involved in delivering equipment and funds to al Qaeda during his stay in Japan after entering the country on a false passport in 2002, Japanese media said.
Japan, a close ally of the United States, stepped up security at key facilities after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and has been on heightened alert since a letter purportedly from al Qaeda said Tokyo would be targeted once Japanese troops set foot in Iraq.
Japan has sent some 550 ground troops to southern Iraq on a non-combat mission to help rebuild Iraq.
Police said they arrested an Indian, a Malian and three Bangladeshis for violating immigration laws.
The government’s top spokesman said he hoped the police action would yield clues about Dumont’s activities.
“We have information that an al Qaeda-linked individual…had contacts with various people in the country and was engaged in certain activities. I hope that the details will be revealed,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a news conference.
“What is important for our nation’s security is that we prevent an international terrorist organization from operating,” Hosoda said.
AL QAEDA CELL?
Wednesday’s action 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.
Kyodo news agency said the police also wanted to investigate their activities and cash transfers among them.
Referring to the Indian who was arrested, a police official said: “We are aware of reports about his links to the Frenchman and will try to find more about it through our investigation.”
Television footage showed police 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, lived in Niigata, northwest of Tokyo, with his German wife from July 2002 until September 2003 and traveled frequently between Japan, Malaysia and Germany, using the forged passport, media said.
Government spokesman Hosoda said he regretted that passport controls at the time failed to catch Dumont, adding that the government will review and tighten them.
Dumont made some 45 deposits and withdrawals, each involving several hundred thousand yen (100,000 yen is about $900), 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.