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Euro terror alert spotlights voiceprint technology

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By RAPHAEL G. SATTER
The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 5, 2010; 6:47 PM

LONDON -- Did their voices betray them? The discovery of an alleged terror plot against Europe owes at least some of its success to "voiceprint" technology that allows law enforcement to electronically match a voice to its owner.

The technique - which some compare to fingerprinting - can be a powerful anti-terror tool, officials increasingly believe. Law enforcement agencies are already considering how a voice database could help thwart future plots.

The reported plot against European cities, in which suspects allegedly spoke of a Mumbai-style shooting spree, has triggered travel warnings and refocused attention on al-Qaida activities on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where several of the voices were recorded.

The British eavesdropping agency GCHQ deployed voice identification software to help uncover the plot that officials say has targeted Germany, Britain and France - with famed sites such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower under close surveillance.

"Advances in these types of technology have been key in thwarting plots and catching suspects," a British government official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work.

Despite progress made in quashing the plot, officials still speak of an ongoing threat.

Police in southern France on Tuesday arrested 12 suspects in sweeps against suspected Islamic militant networks, including three men linked to a network recruiting fighters for Afghanistan.

In one of the cases, nine suspected Islamic militants were detained in southeastern Marseille and its suburbs, and authorities turned up at least one automatic rifle and a pump gun, the officials said.

In Tuesday's other roundup, two men were arrested in Marseille and another in southwestern Bordeaux on suspected ties to a Frenchman arrested in Naples, Italy, last month accused of links to an Afghan recruiting ring.

Officials in Germany were tightlipped Tuesday on details of a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan's rugged mountain border area where Pakistani officials said eight German militants were killed.

U.S. officials believe a cell of Germans and Britons was at the heart of the Europe terror plot. Germany's ARD public television cited unidentified sources Tuesday as saying four of the Germans killed in the missile attack were of Turkish descent.

Developers of voice biometric technology say it can be more useful than traditional fingerprint analysis in fighting terror.


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