WASHINGTON -- French soldiers thwarted a planned terrorist attack on NATO troops in Bosnia yesterday when they raided a house being used as a bomb factory and arrested 11 heavily armed foreign guerrillas, including five Iranians, a senior U.S. official said.
The official said the guerrillas, part of a contingent of Islamic militants who fought on the side of the Muslim-led Bosnian government during 3 1/2 years of ethnic war, were planning to bomb facilities of the NATO-led peace force.
If the plot had succeeded, it would have marked the first attack on North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops since they began ,, their enforcement of the Bosnia peace accords negotiated late last year in Dayton, Ohio.
The U.S. official said the guerrillas were being held for questioning. He said they probably would be expelled from Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A State Department spokesman, Nicholas Burns, said the presence of the guerrillas in Bosnia was a "flagrant violation" of the Dayton accords, which required the Bosnian government to send home by Jan. 19 all of its foreign allies drawn from a variety of Islamic countries.
He said that unless the Bosnian government moved quickly to expel the remaining guerrillas, the United States would be unable to go ahead with a plan to arm and train the Bosnian army.
"In Rome, this will become a very big issue," Mr. Burns said, referring to a meeting scheduled to begin tomorrow in the Italian capital that will be attended by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke and the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.
But officials said yesterday's incident was far more serious than a simple violation of the Dayton accords because the guerrillas were clearly targeting the peacekeepers and, by implication, the entire peace process.
The prompt action of the French IFOR troops in arresting the Islamic fighters contrasts with the NATO force's reluctance to track down accused war criminals. Officials explained that the action against the guerrillas was an act of self-defense .