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Video by Georja CALVIN-SMITH

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2012-04-03

French prosecutors say a formal investigation has been opened into the suspected terrorist activities of 13 Islamists arrested in police raids last week. Under French law, a formal inquiry precedes the filing of criminal charges.

Paris prosecutor François Molins said Tuesday that a formal inquiry has been opened into the suspected terrorist activities of 13 Islamists detained last week. The prosecutor said the men were accused of being part of a criminal group with links to a terrorist network and of illegally collecting weapons.

Molins told a press conference in Paris that while in custody some of the men had confessed to contemplating the abduction of a judge in the eastern city of Lyon, though the plan was never put into action.

The prosecutor also said he had asked that nine of the suspects remain in custody, and that the four other men under investigation be placed under legal surveillance. Under French law, a formal inquiry precedes the filing of criminal charges.

The 13 suspects are part of a group of 17 men thought to belong to Islamist group Forsane Alizza, or "knights of pride", who were rounded up in a multi-city police operation last Friday. The raids led to the seizure of some 20 firearms, including an unreported number of Kalashnikov riffles, the prosecutor confirmed on Tuesday.

Mohamed Achamlane, the leader of Forsane Alizza who was arrested as part of Friday’s roundup, has denied that his group had any intentions to carry out terrorist acts. Achamlane’s lawyer said on Tuesday his client challenged “any kidnapping plan.”

The Forsane Alizza threat

Friday’s police swoop has thrust the national spotlight on Forsane Alizza, a self-professed Islamist organisation that was, until recently, virtually unknown.

French Interior Minister Claude Gueant outlawed the organisation last February, after a government inquiry. But Forsane Alizza propaganda videos, some of them featuring paintball “training” sessions, remained available online.

The head of France's domestic intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini, said on Saturday those arrested were involved in "war-like training, linked to violent religious indoctrination."

Analysts in France said the group probably only counted a score of members, and was primarily interested in attracting attention on the Internet and social networks. “Forsane Alizza members proclaim their pride and allegiance to Salafism and jihad, but they have very little knowledge of Islam,” said Yves Camus, a researcher at France’s Institute for International and Strategic Relations. “It’s a group that wants to get noticed.”

Presidential election in the cross-hairs

Prosecutor François Molins repeated on Tuesday that Forsane Alizza and its arrested members had no relationship with Mohamed Merah – the 23-year-old gunman who was shot dead by police in the southwestern city of Toulouse on March 22.

Merah was the principal suspect in a shooting spree that left 7 people dead –including three Jewish school children – in France’s southwest and who police say claimed responsibility for the killings before dying in a police raid.

French authorities have said that Merah claimed links and inspiration from the al Qaida network, but evidence suggested that he had most likely acted alone and not under orders from a terrorist group.

The drama surrounding the gunman and the members of Forsane Alizza comes just weeks ahead of the first round of French presidential elections on April 22. The threat of terrorism and the issue of security, while previously absent from the campaign, have suddenly become a major talking point for candidates.

The government of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is hoping to secure a second term in office, has highlighted the danger of radical Islam in the wake of the Merah shootings. On Monday, it expelled two Islamic radicals as part of what it said would be a wider crackdown.

"Any foreigner in France who speaks words contrary to our values will be immediately escorted to their country of origin,” Sarkozy said during an interview on Canal+ television on Tuesday.


Date created : 2012-04-03


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