By Lisa Bryant
French President Nicolas Sarkozy says more suspected Muslim extremists will be rounded up, following a series of arrests Friday in operations around the country. The arrests are part of a larger crackdown against radical Islam following a string of killings by an al-Qaida-inspired gunman.
Interviewed on France’s Europe 1 radio Friday, President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed police commandos had staged a series of early morning raids around the country, rounding up 19 suspected Muslim radicals.
Mr. Sarkozy said police had seized a number of weapons, notably Kalashnikov rifles. He said more operations will continue and some people will be expelled from the country.
Mr. Sarkozy’s interior minister, Claude Gueant, provided more details, saying those arrested embraced an extremely violent, jihadist and combat ideology.
Speaking to reporters following a meeting with Muslim associations, Gueant says the government and the Muslim groups are united in fighting against radical Islam. He says the laws of the French Republic must protect Islam, which is the faith of about 5 million people living in the country.
Gueant says those arrested include the head of a banned Muslim group called Forsane Alizza, or “Knights of Pride.” The group is known for having called for a boycott of McDonald’s in the French city of Limoges, on grounds of serving Israel.
In a radio interview, French journalist Mohammed Sifaoui, who has penetrated the group, describes Forsane Alizza as an activist organization that has harassed a number of secular personalities in France. He says they could just be considered bearded people trying to disrupt things – but he says this also fits the background of terrorist groups.
The arrests are part of a larger crackdown against radical Islam following a string of killings this month by Islamist Mohammed Merah.
Separately, the government has banned six Islamic preachers from entering the country to participate in a Muslim conference in Paris next week. It said some had called for hate and violence and risked upsetting public order. Those barred include prominent Egyptian preacher Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi.
Merah was buried Thursday in Toulouse a week after he died in a firefight with French police following a shooting spree in which he shot dead seven people, including two Muslims and four Jews. Just what kind of terrorist ties he has remains unclear, but his older brother, Abdelkader, has been charged with complicity in the attacks.
The Toulouse killings have shaken the nation. Muslim and Jewish leaders organized a joint march to commemorate the victims last Sunday.