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French police swoop on suspected Islamists

31 march 2012, 10:26
0
the RAID special police forces unit. ©AFP
the RAID special police forces unit. ©AFP
French police swooped down on suspected Islamist networks Friday, arresting 19 people as President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed a crackdown would continue after an extremist gunman's killing spree, AFP reports.

The arrests took place in several cities including Toulouse, where Mohamed Merah was shot dead by police last week after a series of cold-blooded shootings in southwestern France that left seven dead.

Sarkozy said the arrests targeted "radical Islam" and that the trauma in France after the shootings in Toulouse and Montauban was somewhat like that felt in the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"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.

Agents from France's DCRI domestic intelligence agency working with anti-terror and elite police units carried out the dawn raids in Toulouse, Nantes, Marseille, Lyon, Nice, Paris and other areas.

The operation "is not linked only to Toulouse, it's on all of French territory, is linked with a form of radical Islam and is in full accordance with the law," Sarkozy said.

He said Friday's operation was only the start.

"We have some extremely precise questions to ask a certain number of people and what happened this morning will continue," said Sarkozy, in the thick of a heated campaign for France's two-round April-May presidential election.

"There will be other operations that will continue and will also allow us to expel from our national territory a certain number of people," he added.

Sarkozy also defended France's decision this week to bar some Muslim preachers from entering the country, saying: "We don't want people who advocate values contrary to the republic to be invited to our territory."

Police sources said the raids were "not directly linked" to the Toulouse shootings but targeted at extremists networks.

Police said Kalashnikov assault rifles and other weapons were seized during the raids.

Among those arrested was Mohammed Achamlane, the head of a suspected extremist group called Forsane Alizza, the sources said, with three Kalashnikovs, a Glock pistol and a grenade were seized from his home.

The arrests came a day after Merah, who was shot dead by a police sniper on March 22 at the end of a 32-hour siege at his flat in Toulouse, was buried in the city under heavy police watch.

The 23-year-old had shot dead three soldiers, and three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in a killing spree that shocked the country.

The man branded a "monster" by French leaders was laid to rest in Toulouse's Cornebarrieu cemetery after his family's homeland Algeria refused to accept the body, citing security concerns.

French authorities have charged Merah's brother Abdelkader with complicity in the attacks and said they were looking for other accomplices.

Abdelkader Merah was charged with helping his sibling steal the powerful Yamaha scooter used in the shootings and police have said they were seeking a third person who may have been involved in the theft.

France on Thursday banned the four Muslim preachers from entering the country to attend an Islamic conference next month, saying their "calls for hatred and violence" were a threat to public order.

The ban applies to Saudi clerics Ayed Bin Abdallah al-Qarni and Abdallah Basfar, Egyptian cleric Safwat al-Hijazi and a former mufti of Jerusalem Akrama Sabri.

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