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France to beef up security amid terror crackdown

October 07, 2012

French President Francois Hollande holds a press ocnference at the conclusion of the NATO 2012 Summit in Chicago on May 21, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ERIC FEFERBERG
French President Francois Hollande speaks during a press conference. – AFP (File Photo)

PARIS: French President Francois Hollande vowed tough anti-terror laws and tightened security as police Sunday pressed on with sweeping raids that saw one man killed and 11 arrested over an attack on a Jewish store.

“The state is totally mobilised to fight all terror threats,” Hollande said after meeting Jewish leaders at the Elysee palace, vowing that “planned anti-terror laws will be put before parliament as soon as possible.”

He said Saturday's raids, in which one man was killed and 11 other suspects arrested nationwide, had helped “crush an Islamist cell which we think had struck in the past and which could stage attacks in the coming weeks.”

He gave no details about the cell, but officials evoked the growing threat of homegrown radical Islamists, many of whom were recent converts.

Hollande also said that France, which has Western Europe's largest Muslim population, should not “stigmatise” its estimated four million adherents.

“The Muslims of France are not all Islamist fanatics,” he said. “They are also victims.”

He said surveillance would be stepped up “at places of worship because secularism, one of France's fundamental principles, directs the state to protect all religions.”

Jeremy-Louis Sidney, a 33-year-old convert to Islam, was shot dead by police Saturday during a raid over a September 19 attack on a kosher grocery store in the gritty northern Paris suburb of Sarcelles which left one person injured.

Police on Sunday raided an apartment in the French Riviera city of Cannes and searched a vehicle following the arrests of two men there who had at one time given refuge to Sidney, a source close to the investigation said.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins described Sidney as “a delinquent who had converted to radical Islam” and said his fingerprints were found on the remains of an explosive device lobbed at the kosher grocery.

Sidney had been at the home of “one of his two religious wives”, a woman of 22 who has a girl of six and a one-month-old baby, during the early morning shootout in the eastern city of Strasbourg.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls meanwhile warned of a surge in homegrown Islamist radicals.

“There is a terrorist threat in France,” Valls said in a radio interview.

“It does not appear to come from foreigners, it appears to be French converts.”

The 11 arrested suspects were born in the 1980s and 1990s, the Paris prosecutor said, adding that some were “common criminals who set out on a path of radicalisation toward Islamist jihadism”.

Three of the suspects had criminal records for cases involving drug trafficking, theft and violence. Sidney himself had been sentenced to two years in prison in 2008 for drug trafficking.

Jewish groups on Sunday complained of increasing hate attacks.

“The facts speak for themselves. Anti-Semitic acts are increasing rapidly,”Alain Jakubowitz, the head of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, told the Journal du Dimanche.

“The worst enemies of Muslims are not the 'Islamophobes' but the radical Islamists,” he said. “They have to understand that they will be the first victims” as a result of this growing trend.

Richard Prasquier, who heads the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, added: “The intrinsic hatred against Jews is being more and more trivialised.

“There will be no progress if barriers are not put on the national and international levels,” he added.