France has to be vigilant against Islamists, official says

Story highlights

  • Muslim radicals want to avenge the death of a gunman, says the French interior minister
  • Claude Gueant says radicals may follow in the footseps of Mohammed Merah
  • Merah was suspected of killing seven people before he was killed by police
  • France has widened a security crackdown
Islamist groups in France want to avenge the death of a Muslim radical who was killed by police, prompting France to exercise vigilance, the country's interior minister said Friday.
Claude Gueant said French authorities have noticed a "renewed enthusiasm" and "a desire to avenge" the death of Mohammed Merah. He said some radical Muslims may follow in Merah's footsteps and "become a martyr."
Merah, a French citizen of Algerian origin, was suspected of killing seven people before he himself died last month in a 32-hour siege of his apartment in the southwestern city of Toulouse.
"We have to be vigilant," Gueant said on French radio Europe 1.
Gueant's comments come amid a widening security crackdown in the aftermath of the horrific shooting spree.
Ten suspected Islamists were arrested in fresh raids across France on Wednesday, and 13 alleged radicals arrested a week ago were placed under formal investigation for "criminal conspiracy in connection with a terrorist enterprise" and possession and transportation of weapons, officials said.
Nine of the 13 have been jailed, including Mohamed Achamlane, leader of the Islamist group Forsane Alizza, reportedly linked to Merah.
French prosecutor Francois Molins said the detained radical Muslims were preparing for holy war.
Forsane Alizza and Achamlane were "calling for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in France and calling for the implementation of Sharia law and inciting Muslims in France to unite for the preparation of a civil war," a Paris prosecutor said.
The Interior Ministry announced Monday it had deported two Muslims and plans to expel three more.
Gueant said the moves were part of "an acceleration of the deportation procedures of foreign Islamic radicals."
An Islamic militant from Algeria who was involved in 1994 attacks in Marrakech, Morocco, was sent to his home country Monday, the statement said. In addition, a Malian imam was returned to his home country for sermons that promoted anti-Semitism and rejection of the West, it said.
Deportation proceedings also have started or are planned against three others: an imam of Saudi nationality, a militant Islamist from Tunisia and an imam from Turkey, the statement said.
It cited provisions in the law governing aliens and political asylum, saying the statutes "allow this type of decision with regards to the 'urgent need for state security or public safety' or 'conduct likely to harm the fundamental interests of the state.'"
According to the statement, other expulsions will occur soon.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is running for re-election and has made security a priority, said the raids were intended to "deny the entry of certain people to France" who did not share the country's values.
"It's not just linked to Toulouse. It's all over the country. It's in connection with a form of radical Islam, and it's in agreement with the law," he said.
Sarkozy suggested then that more raids would follow, saying, "There will be other operations that will continue and that will allow us to expel from our national territory a certain number of people who have no reason to be here."
Merah was blamed for the killings of three French paratroopers, a rabbi and three Jewish children ages 4, 5 and 7 in Toulouse and the nearby city of Montauban. Two other people were seriously wounded in the shootings.
Gueant, too, suggested that France's security concerns have been in place long before Merah. He said over the past five years, 348 people have been arrested in France as part of the fight against terrorism; 88 of them have been put behind bars.