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.
The arrests took place in several cities including Toulouse, whereMohamed 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.