The Islam-inspired killer of seven in Toulouse France, Mohamed Merah, was initially characterized as self-radicalized. Now it seems possible that he may have had associates, and the arrest of 19 suspected Islamic terrorists in Toulouse and other French cities is an indication.
President Sarkozy promised that the police crackdown would continue.
Interestingly, the New York Times popped out an upbeat salute to the city of Toulouse on Tuesday that made it seem a multicultural paradise: After Killings in France, Muslims Fear a Culture of Diversity Is at Risk. The Times rhapsodized, “this sunny red-brick city has long been known as a place of welcome and diversity” and “is described by its inhabitants as a place of particular tolerance.” Utopia!
Terror arrests in Toulouse in the following days must have been a tiny disappointment for the furtherance of that cheerful diversity narrative. Oh, well!
France detains 19 suspected Islamists, Daily Telegraph, March 30, 2012
Police have detained 19 people in a crackdown on suspected Islamist extremists in cities around France on Thursday and more such raids are planned, Nicolas Sarkozy said.
Arrests took place in several cities, including Toulouse, where extremist gunman Mohamed Merah was shot dead by police last week after a series of cold-blooded shootings that left seven dead, including three Jewish children.
Sarkozy said the arrests targeted “radical Islam” and that the trauma in France after the shootings in Toulouse and nearby Montauban was 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, the Ile de France region around Paris, Nantes in the west, Lyon in the east and the southern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region.
Three of the 19 arrested were women, police said.
Judicial sources said 17 of those arrested were being held for questioning. In France suspects in terror-related cases can be held for up to four days without charge.
A senior police source told AFP that authorities had up to 100 suspected Islamist radicals in their sights and Sarkozy 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.”
After trailing Socialist candidate Francois Hollande for months in the polls, Sarkozy has jumped ahead in first-round voter intentions and seen his support rise in the wake of the attacks.
Generally seen as stronger on security than Hollande, Sarkozy is keen to make law and order a key issue in a campaign that has so far been dominated by the economy, jobs and spending power.
The latest poll by CSA released on Wednesday said 30 percent of voters would pick Sarkozy and 26 percent would go for Hollande in the April 22 first round.
Four more French polling institutes this week all put Sarkozy ahead in the first round, though all still predict Hollande winning the May 6 second round.
Police sources said Friday’s raids were “not directly linked” to the Toulouse shootings but targeted at extremists networks. They said Kalashnikov assault rifles and other weapons were seized.
Among those arrested in the Nantes region was Mohammed Achamlane, the head of a suspected extremist group called Forsane Alizza, the sources said. Three Kalashnikovs, a Glock pistol and a grenade were seized from his home.
The arrests came a day after the body of 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 guard.
The 23-year-old had shot dead three soldiers, and three children and a teacher at a Jewish school, in a killing spree this month 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.
France on Thursday banned the four Muslim preachers from entering the country for 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.