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Man held in terror financing probe

French authorities have arrested the administrator of an extremist French website who is suspected of playing a key role in financing and recruiting for al Qaida and other terrorist groups in several countries, the Paris prosecutor's office said.

The man - who prosecutors call an "operational vector and formidable financier of the bloodiest terrorist groups" - is being questioned.

He faces preliminary charges of planning terrorist acts and financing a terrorist enterprise, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The man, a Tunisian born in 1977 based in the southern French city of Toulon, was arrested on Friday after a year-long investigation, the prosecutor's statement said. It did not give the man's name.

The prosecutor cited "serious and concordant evidence" that the suspect sent material from his computer to terrorist groups. It says he played a "centralising role" in collecting funds for terrorist groups to buy weapons, but did not elaborate on how much money was involved.

Prosecutors say he is suspected of acting as a financier and recruiter for groups including al Qaida and al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa), Fatah al Islam, and the Islamic State of Iraq.

Investigators studied thousands of email messages and analysed a "considerable mass" of data, prosecutors said.

They called it an exceptionally advanced example of "the use of the internet for terrorist ends in the domain of radical Islam".

The arrest comes three months after a gunman who police said claimed allegiance to al Qaida killed Jewish schoolchildren and paratroopers in a rampage in southern France, in the country's worst terrorist attacks since the 1990s.

Also earlier this year, a French court sentenced an Algerian-born nuclear physicist to five years in prison for his role in plotting terrorism with al Qaida's North African wing via online contacts. Adlene Hicheur, a former researcher at Switzerland's CERN laboratory, was convicted of "criminal association with a view to plotting terrorist attacks". His defenders say he was a victim of allegedly overzealous French anti-terrorism laws and that he explored ideas on jihadist websites but never took any concrete steps towards terrorism.

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