French police arrest 5 Chechens suspected of planning attack

France remains on security alert after Paris experienced three days of violence in which 17 people died.

FILE: Tributes laid outside the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 14 January 2014. Picture: AFP.

PARIS - Police arrested five Chechens in southern France on suspicion of preparing an attack, a police source said on Tuesday, nearly two weeks after Islamist militants killed 17 people during three days of violence in the French capital.

The source said four of them were arrested in Montpellier or nearby, and a fifth in Beziers._ Midi Libre_ newspaper reported a cache of explosives was found during police searches.

The case has not been passed onto the anti-terrorist section of the Paris prosecutor's office, a judicial source said. Local TV chain LCI said organised crime and score settling between Chechen gangs was at the source of the suspects' plan.

France remains on security alert after gunmen stormed the Paris offices of the _ Charle Hebdo _newspaper on 7 January and killed 12 people, in what they said was revenge for cartoons it had published mocking Islam.

A further five people were killed during two further days of violence that shocked France.

Hundreds of thousands of people protested in Russia's Chechnya region on Monday against what its Kremlin-backed leader called "vulgar and immoral" cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by Charlie Hebdo.

At the same time, Bulgaria will extradite a Frenchman who was a business partner of the two brothers responsible for the Charlie Hebdo's attack, a court said on Tuesday.

Fritz-Joly Joachin has acknowledged his connections to the brothers and even played football with them, but he denies being part of an Islamist militant group. He is ready to be extradited to France to prove his innocence, his lawyer said.

Joachin, a 29-year-old Muslim convert of Haitian origin, was arrested by Bulgarian police on 1 January, before the Paris attack, at a border checkpoint when he tried to cross into Turkey.

He was initially held on a European arrest warrant that alleged he had abducted his three-year-old son and was likely to take him to Syria - an accusation he denies.

A second European arrest warrant later alleged Joachin had participated in a criminal group that plotted acts of terrorism, for which he could face 10 years in prison.

It also says Joachin, a construction worker with no previous criminal convictions, was travelling with a man allegedly part of a Islamist network in Paris. Also with them was the sister of a man in jail for being part of a network that sent fighters to Syria, the warrant said.

A prosecutor in the southern town of Haskovo told reporters after a short court hearing that Joachin would be extradited within 10 days, but it could come much sooner.