December 26, 2002

MORE:

Four more alleged Islamic militants have been arrested near Paris, on suspicion of planning a series of terror attacks. The arrests were made on Tuesday in the northern suburb of Romainville, the authorities say.

Last week, four other people of North African origin were detained the nearby suburb of La Courneuve.

During last week’s raids, police say they found bomb-making equipment.

Police say the four men arrested in Romainville are of Algerian origin, and that one is the brother of Mourad Ben Chelali, a French national being held at the US base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The French news agency AFP quotes unnamed officials as saying the same explosive substance was found during both raids.

“Alleged militants?” Aren’t they alleged terrorists?

UPDATE: A reader writes:

The various news articles in English were virtually identical so I went digging and found the original AFP release in French. This makes it clear why the difficulties. The articles are all nearly verbatim translations of the French news release.

The French statement identified the four men arrested as “islamists”. They did not say militants, terrorists, etc. They used a word that has more meaning in current French usage than it does in English. But it spans more than terrorist in French usage. It includes advocates, sympathizers and supporters as well as active terrorists.

This leads to the newspaper translators facing the issue of how best to translate this. Militant is a reasonable English translation of what the French sources said.

The French sources may simply be being cautious about criminal accusations. It is fairly trivial to prove that these people are militants. They may have some evidenciary problems proving that they are terrorists. This is like being careful to distinguish between a murderer and a person who attempted murder. They may end up convicting them of illegal weapons possession rather than terrorism simply because they were caught before they did anything.

My French is weak enough that I can’t say — it’s a tossup whether I can do a better job than Google. (Actually, Google has the edge). But there you are, for what it’s worth.