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A French national believed to be a senior member of al-Qaeda entered Japan on a fake passport in July 2002, traveled abroad frequently, and made the city of Niigata his hideout for more than a year while he was being hunted by Interpol, according to investigative sources.

The latest revelation about Lionel Dumont — who was arrested in Germany in December — has come as a shock to authorities in Japan because his arrival here coincided with stepped-up immigration controls following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

It is the first time that Japanese authorities have uncovered evidence of a network in Japan centered around a senior member of al-Qaeda. The United States blames the network, led by Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden, for the Sept. 11 attacks.

The repeated comings and goings of Dumont, 33, have also shocked Tokyo, which learned from Japanese and German investigations that Japan could have become a breeding ground for terrorist acts, the sources said.

According to the investigations, Dumont was found to have frequently contacted at least 10 foreign nationals living in Japan after he left Japan in September until his arrest a few months later.

Dumont, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, had been sought by Interpol in connection with incidents that included an attempted terrorist bombing related to the Group of Seven economic summit in Lyon, France, in June 1996.

The sources said Japanese and German investigators suspect that Dumont, while based in Japan, was involved in the delivery of equipment and funds to al-Qaeda. The investigators believe Dumont belongs to the network’s logistics arm.

After a U.N. committee introduced sanctions to freeze assets held by bin Laden and his affiliates, Japan followed suit last July, while Dumont was still in Niigata.

The move to freeze individual and group assets is part of a global effort to curb financial flows to terrorist groups.

The National Police Agency has convened an emergency meeting to probe Dumont’s activities and uncover why he based himself in Niigata.

The investigations thus far show that Dumont was living in an apartment at Niigata with his German wife while working as a used car dealer from July 2002 to last September, when he left Japan for Malaysia, the sources said.

Dumont had traveled back and forth between Japan and Malaysia and Germany four to five times.

Upon his arrest in December, German authorities discovered from his mobile phone records that he had made several calls to Pakistanis as well as other foreigners living in various parts of Japan, including Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Niigata, Gunma and Nagano prefectures. The calls were made from September to December.

Investigation sources also said that Dumont had telephone conversations with a senior British member of the network last year while he was still in Niigata.

Dumont may have been exchanging information with the 32-year-old Jamaican-British member on the situation of countries al-Qaeda had targeted for attack, the sources said.

The Briton called Dumont last August, before he himself was arrested in October on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks in Britain, the sources quoted investigative authorities in Japan, Germany and Britain as saying.

Japanese investigators believe Dumont joined an extremist group affiliated with al-Qaeda during the time he fought in the Bosnia-Herzegovina ethnic war in the early 1990s.

Later on, he was arrested for killing a police officer in Bosnia and was serving time in a Sarajevo prison when he escaped in 1999, according to investigators.

In addition to being sought by Bosnia over the murder of the policeman, he was also being sought by France over the attempted bombing of the police headquarters in Lille in March 1996 and also by Italy. The Lille incident occurred before the start of the ministerial conference on employment in preparation for the G7 summit.

German authorities arrested him on Dec. 13, while he was at a Munich hotel.

Dumont arrived in Japan immediately after the 2002 World Cup soccer finals, which were jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea. The championships were held from May 31 to June 30.

According to information earlier provided to Japan by U.S. security authorities, an arrested senior al-Qaeda member has testified that there was a plan to launch a terrorist attack on Japan during the World Cup but it was scrapped because al-Qaeda lacked a support network here.

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