PARIS: A dozen people have been arrested in France and Belgium in connection with the weapons used in the deadly 2015 terror attack on a Jewish supermarket in Paris, a source close to the probe said Wednesday.
Claude Hermant, a suspected arms dealer and former mercenary in the 1990s Balkan wars, was taken into custody along with the other suspects in raids that began Monday, the source told AFP, adding that there could be more arrests.
Investigators are trying to piece together how France-based jihadist Amedy Coulibaly obtained the weapons used in the January 9, 2015, attack in which four people were killed.
It was part of three days of terror in the French capital that began with the raid on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine offices that killed 12 people.
The probe into the bloodshed found that the arms used in the supermarket attack were obtained from Seth Outdoor, the company of Hermant's girlfriend, between July and November 2014.
The weapons came from Slovakia and were made inoperable, then handled by a middleman in Belgium before being resold to Seth Outdoor, investigators say.
Hermant, who prosecutors say has links with far-right groups in northern France, was questioned along with his girlfriend in December 2015 over the supermarket attack without being charged.
Coulibaly killed four people after taking shoppers hostage at the Jewish store in the eastern Paris suburb of Vincennes. Elite police later shot him dead as they stormed the building.
He had killed a policewoman in the Montrouge suburb south of Paris the night before, when authorities think he may have initially been targeting a nearby Jewish school.
Weapons found at the supermarket and at Coulibaly's apartment in a southern suburb of Paris included an assault rifle and four Tokarev semi-automatic pistols.
- 'Attacks blew my mind' -
Seven men have been charged in the case since 2015 of whom six are in custody on charges of abetting Coulibaly in various ways, but none has admitted to knowing of an attack plot.
During questioning, Hermant, who has been charged in a separate arms trafficking case in the northern city of Lille, denied making the weapons work again or any knowledge of a plot.
Hermant's lawyer Yassine Bouzrou said his client sold weapons while working as an informant for police seeking to bust crime gangs in the northern city of Lille.
Hermant has told authorities that he had acted as an informant for police and customs officers, while witnesses contradicted that, saying he was an arms dealer.
Bouzrou told AFP his client "disputes any implication" in the January 2015 attacks and "says he has always acted, when he sold weapons, with the go-ahead of the Lille... gendarmes."
Hermant "wants all (police) documents that concern him to be declassified," Bouzrou said.
Regarding one of those in custody in both cases, named as Samir L., Hermant said he had sold him "40 to 45" weapons that he thought were going to be used for robberies.
He said he "continued to work" with Samir L. even after he had stopped hearing from his police contacts.
After the January 2015 attacks, according to a source close to the case, he said in jail: "The latest news... these horrible events, I mean the attacks in Paris, blew my mind."
Looking at the news reports, "especially seeing the type of weapons... I realised that they could have been weapons I was led to supply" to Samir L., presumably for a sting operation.
In December 2015 Hermant told anti-terrorism investigators he had "nothing to do with the attacks, neither closely nor remotely".