PARIS — French authorities filed preliminary terrorism charges Tuesday against a Tunisian administrator of an extremist French website who is suspected of playing a key role in financing and recruiting for al-Qaida and other violent groups.
The announcement of the suspect’s arrest was unusually dramatic and public for French authorities, but it did not spell out what evidence has been culled or how much money may have been involved, or provide the man’s name.
It is the first publicly announced suspected terrorist arrest since President Francois Hollande took office in May.
The suspect, whom prosecutors described as a “formidable financier of the bloodiest terrorist groups,” was questioned Tuesday by anti-terrorism Judge Marc Trevidic in Paris.
Preliminary charges were filed against him for suspected plotting of terrorist acts and financing a terrorist enterprise, the prosecutor’s office said. Under French law, preliminary charges mean investigating magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow further time for investigation before a decision is made on whether to send the case to trial.
The suspect will remain in custody pending further investigation.
Prosecutors said he is suspected of acting as a financier and recruiter for an unusually broad range of terrorist groups stretching from South Asia across the Middle East to North Africa, including al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Lebanon-based Fatah al-Islam, the Islamic State of Iraq, Tawhid al-Jihad and Palestinian extremist group Jaish al-Islam.
The man, born in Tunisia in 1977, was based in the southern French city of Toulon. He was arrested Friday after a yearlong investigation, the prosecutor’s statement said.
Masked agents took part in the raid to arrest him in Toulon, then he was transferred to national anti-terrorist authorities in Paris, said a judicial official in Toulon. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly about ongoing investigations.
The Paris prosecutor cited “serious and concordant evidence” that the suspect sent material from his computer to terrorist groups. The prosecutor said the suspect played a central role in collecting funds for terrorist groups to buy weapons, but did not elaborate on how much money was involved.
Investigators studied thousands of email messages and analyzed 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.”