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Bolivia probing 9 in hijack threat

Bangladeshis questioned

LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Authorities detained and questioned nine Bangladeshis yesterday after French police warned that the men may have planned to hijack a plane to attack an American target in Argentina.

Interior Minister Alfonso Ferrufino said the nine, who had lived in Bolivia for a year, later were ordered released for a lack of evidence. The Bangladeshis did not talk to reporters as they left police headquarters in the western city of Santa Cruz. They are allowed to remain in Bolivia while the investigation continues, Ferrufino said.

He said Marc Bertrand, a police attache at the French Embassy, had given Bolivian officials the warning, but it was not enough to keep the men in custody. French police did not respond to a Bolivian request for more information, Ferrufino said.

The French communique "was very brief and has a character of great uncertainty," he said. "All the investigation conducted so far has not produced sufficient evidence to open a legal action against these people. Therefore, their release has been ordered while the investigation continues."

Bolivian police said the urgent warning from Bertrand read, "French intelligence services have received information that leads us to think that the citizens from Bangladesh may board planes in South America, hijack them, and crash them against US targets."

There was no comment from French officials late yesterday.

Another Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, earlier said that seven other unidentified people had been questioned and released.

The daily newspaper El Deber reported that the group was planning to fly to Buenos Aires on Dec. 2, but the airline, Aerolineas Argentinas, canceled the flight "at the last minute."

The Bangladeshis had been living in Santa Cruz for a year, Bolivian officials said. When exactly they arrived in Bolivia was unclear, although officials said they originally had flown from France to Argentina and on to Bolivia.

Police identified the detainees as Jahangir Alam, 24; Morad Hossain, 27; Mihir Lal Ray, 30; Mohammed Jalkaria, 26; Anwar Hossain, 24; Ahmed Chowdhury Fares, 25; Mohammed Mahubud Alam, 24; Mohammed Eftaker Hossen, 24, and Sohel Rana, whose age was not known.

Last week, Argentina ordered security to be stepped up near the US, Spanish, British, and Italian embassies in Buenos Aires after government officials said they received foreign intelligence warnings of possible terrorist threats.

Defense Minister Jose Pampuro said Argentina also had boosted border patrols after receiving warnings of an imminent attack from "two international intelligence services."

Argentina was hit by two terrorist attacks in the 1990s, both targeting the country's Jewish community, Latin America's largest with an estimated 200,000 people.

A March 1992 bombing destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 28 people. Two years later, a blast at a Jewish community center killed 85 people in the Argentine capital and wounded more than 200 others.

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