French police arrested at least 19 people early Friday morning over suspected links to militant Islamist circles in cities across the country, including Nantes, Le Mans, Toulouse and several suburbs of Paris.
Days after French President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered a crackdown on radical Islamists following the deadly Toulouse shootings, French police arrested at least 19 people in early morning raids Friday in several cities, including Toulouse.
France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency, along with the national police’s elite RAID unit, conducted the swoops in the southwestern city of Toulouse as well as the western cities of Nantes and Le Mans, and in the Paris region, according to police sources.
Speaking to FRANCE 24 shortly after the arrests, Cédric Delage, the Toulouse regional secretary for the French police union, UNSA-Police, said the DCRI conducted Friday’s raids “to look for groups or individuals who may be dangerous to the French state.”
Sarkozy likens Toulouse shootings to 9/11
President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday that France was shaken by an Islamist gunman's shootings in and around Toulouse, likening the trauma from the murders to that of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
"What must be understood is that the trauma of Montauban and Toulouse is profound for our country, a little -- I don't want to compare the horrors -- a little like the trauma that followed in the United States and in New York after the September 11, 2001 attacks," he told Europe 1 radio.
In an interview with the French radio station Europe 1 Friday, Sarkozy gave no details about the arrests, or of what specifically the detainees are suspected.
“It's in connection with a form of Islamist radicalism,'' said Sarkozy.
The arrests came a day after Mohamed Merah, the self-confessed gunman who killed seven people in a shooting spree in southwest France, was buried in Toulouse.
A French national of Algerian descent, Merah was killed last week after a 32-hour police siege in Toulouse. His family had wanted Merah to be buried in their ancestral village of Bezzaz, south of the capital of Algiers, but the Algerian government refused to accept his body on security grounds.
In his interview with FRANCE 24, Delage said it was still too early to say if there was a direct link between Friday’s arrests and the Merah case. “Further investigation and questioning of the suspects will reveal more information in the hours to come,” said Delage.
French investigators are probing possible links between Merah and radical Islamist groups, and seeking any accomplices the 23-year-old shooter may have had.
Merah’s elder brother, Abdelkader, has been detained since March 21 on suspicion of complicity. But according to media reports, French investigators are also examining if there was another accomplice, a “third man,” who may have aided the Merah brothers.
Friday’s raids in Toulouse were concentrated in the suburb of Mirail, a police source told the AFP. According to the webside of Le Monde, France’s leading daily, the arrests led to the seizure of three Kalashnikovs, a pistol and a grenade, along with other arms.
Report: Leader of Forsane Alizza arrested
Police also conducted swoops in the western city of Nantes, which is home to the leaders of Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride), a banned Islamist group that French media reports have linked to Merah.
According to Europe 1, the arrests included Forsane Alizza’s leader, Mohammed Achamlane.
Founded in 2010, Forsane Alizza was banned on February 29, 2012, by French Interior Minister, Claude Gueant.
Before the Toulouse attacks, the group was known for its provocative demonstrations, such as last year’s protests against a French ban on worshippers praying in the streets.
France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, estimated at between 3 to 5 million people.
According to Jean-Yves Camus, a researcher at the Paris-based think-tank, IRIS (Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques), Forsane Alizza is a group comprised of mostly young people who have been recently radicalized.
“Members of Forsane Alizza espouse jihadism and Salafism, but they have very little knowledge of Islam. They are primarily an attention-seeking group that wants to get noticed,” said Camus.
Camus said he observed a recent demonstration outside the Paris mayor’s office against extremist Christians when Forsane Alizza members showed up in “Afghan outfits”.
“They did not try to hide, but rather they wanted to be filmed and photographed as much as possible," he said.
Forsane Alizza first made the headlines in June 2010, when ten of its members organized a boycott of McDonald's in the central French city of Limoges, accusing the US company of being a “slave of Israel”. A few months ago also, the group burned copies of France’s civil codes to protest the law banning the burqa, the full Islamic veil.
In early 2012, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant called for the banning of the group as it was "intolerable to have a group calling for armed struggle in our country."
But Achamlane has denied that his movement is violent. The February banning of the group, the Forsane Alizza website bore the notice, "The Forsane Alizza group is dissolved; however, we still face severe pressure despite the end of our activities."
Date created : 2012-03-30