Crackdown as Sarkozy enjoys growing support

Crackdown as Sarkozy enjoys growing support

PARIS
Crackdown as Sarkozy enjoys growing support

French members of the French National Police Intervention Group (GIPN) arrest a man after searching a house in Bouguenais, western France, on March 30 as part of down raids in several cities. French police arrested 19 people in the raids. AFP photo

French police arrested 19 people suspected of radical Islamist activity March 30, 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-terrorism 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. A senior police source told that authorities had up to 100 suspected Islamist radicals in their sights, and Sarkozy said Friday’s operation was only the start. “There will be other operations that will continue and will also allow us to expel from our national territory a certain number of people,” Sarkozy said. 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. The latest poll by CSA released on March 28 said 30 percent of voters would choose Sarkozy and 26 percent would vote 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 the raids on March 30 were “not directly linked” to the Toulouse shootings, but targeted extremist networks. They said Kalashnikov assault rifles and other weapons were seized.

Merah buried in Toulouse
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. He 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.

Complied from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff

Islamist, France