Hunt for extremists continues in France

Hunt for extremists continues in France

Hunt for extremists continues in France

Members of the French National Police Intervention Group arrest a suspected radical Islamist group member on April 4 in the southern French city of Marseille. AFP photo

French police swooped yesterday on suspected radical Islamists in pre-dawn raids for the second time in less than a week in a clampdown ordered by President Nicolas Sarkozy after seven people were killed by an al-Qaeda-inspired gunman last month.

The DCRI domestic intelligence service, supported by elite police commandos, carried out arrests in the southern cities of Marseille and Valence, two towns in the southwest and in the northeastern town of Roubaix, a police source said.

They came less than a week after 19 alleged Islamists were arrested March 30 in similar anti-terrorist raids. Prosecutors have announced that they would seek terror charges against 13 of them. Sarkozy, who is facing an uphill task to be re-elected president in an April-May vote, has vowed to root out any form of militancy after al-Qaeda-inspired gunman Mohammed Merah was shot dead in a police siege following a killing spree in which he murdered seven people, including three children, around Toulouse.

“Those arrested have a similar profile to Mohamed Merah,” a local police source said. “They are isolated individuals, who are self-radicalized.”

He said the suspects were tracked on Islamist forums expressing extreme views and said they were preparing to travel to areas including Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Sahel belt to wage jihad.

The killings came just weeks before France’s hotly-contested presidential election, with security becoming a major campaign theme and Sarkozy closing the gap in opinion polls on his main rival, Socialist François Hollande.

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.