Swiss Confirm Reports Terror Cell Tried to Shoot Down El Al Plane

Swiss prosecutors deny reports suspects had anti-aircraft missiles; Israel declines to comment.

A terrorist cell plotted to shoot down an El Al airplane in Switzerland, but was foiled by Swiss intelligence services, the Swiss Federal Prosecutor's Office said Thursday.

According to a statement from the prosecutor's office seven people of North African descent are under arrest in connection with the plan. Officials declined to give further details.

Swiss officials said the terrorist cell planned an attack on the El Al plane in December 2005 during takeoff from Geneva airport, forcing the airline to divert its flights to Zurich for a week.

In their report, however, the Swiss refuted suggestions that the militants had been armed with anti-aircraft missiles.

A series of arrests started May 12 in the cantons (states) of Zurich and Basel, the prosecutor's office said. The investigation continues both in Switzerland and in other countries.

Law enforcement authorities in several other European countries, particularly in France and Spain, helped in the investigation, the Swiss prosecutor's office said.

"Those who were arrested in Switzerland maintained contact with similar cells in France and Spain, which were likewise smashed," the statement said.

One of the members of the Swiss cell had been in contact with Mohamed Achraf, an alias for Abderrahmane Tahiri, who has been indicted in Spain for an alleged 2004 plot to carry out a massive truck bombing against Madrid's National Court, the hub of Spain's anti-terror investigations. Tahiri was extradited from Switzerland in April 2005.

Israeli security officials declined to comment on the affair.