In a second major raid in two weeks, French police arrested at least eight people early Wednesday in the southern city of Marseilles as well as Roubaix near the Belgian border, and in several other locations in southern France.
Elite French police launched early morning raids Wednesday in several French towns and cities, arresting at least eight people in the second major sweep in two weeks.
The latest raids are being conducted primarily in the southern city of Marseilles as well as Roubaix near the Belgian border, and in several other locations in the country's south and southwest, a police source told the AFP Wednesday.
The raids are led by France’s domestic DCRI intelligence agency, according to police sources.
The operation came barely a week after the arrest of several members of a radical Islamist group, Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride) on March 30th in similar sweeps in the southwestern city of Toulouse as well as the western cities of Nantes and Le Mans, and in the Paris region.
Paris judges also announced Wednesday that they had placed 13 Forsane Alizza members under formal investigation for "criminal conspiracy connected to a terrorist enterprise" and illegal possession and transportation of weapons, officials said. Nine of the suspects were ordered to be remanded in custody, judicial sources added.
Under French law, a formal inquiry precedes the filing of criminal charges.
The latest crackdowns follow the deadly shootings by self-confessed Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah in southwest France last month. Merah, a French national of Algerian origins, killed seven people, including three French paratroopers, a rabbi and three children in a Jewish school in Toulouse. The 23-year-old gunman was killed after a 32-hour siege in Toulouse last month.
Following the attacks, which shocked the nation, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to crack down on radical Islamists in France, a country that is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community.
Alleged plan to abduct a judge
On Tuesday, Paris prosecutor François Molins told a press conference in Paris that while in custody some of the Forsane Alizza 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 multi-city police operation last Friday led to the seizure of some 20 firearms, including an unreported number of Kalashnikov riffles, prosecutor Molins 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.”
Friday’s police swoop has thrust the national spotlight on Forsane Alizza, a self-professed Islamist organisation that was, until recently, virtually unknown.
Spotlight on French jihadism
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant outlawed the organisation in February, after a government inquiry. But Forsane Alizza propaganda videos, some of them featuring paintball “training” sessions, are still 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.”
All eyes on the upcoming presidential election
At the press conference in Paris on Tuesday, Molins reiterated that Forsane Alizza and its arrested members had no relationship with the Toulouse gunman.
French authorities have said that Merah claimed links and inspiration from the al Qaeda 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.
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 : 2012-04-04