France to beef up security to fight terror threats

Police guard the Nazareth Synagogue in Paris.

PARIS: French President Francois Hollande vowed tough anti-terror laws and tighter security as police Sunday staged more raids after a crackdown that saw one man killed and 11 arrested over an attack on a Jewish store.

“The state is totally mobilized 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.”

This would help “further strengthen measures to fight this scourge more efficiently,” he said.

Hollande said Saturday’s raids, in which one man was killed and 11 others 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.

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

Just hours after Sidney’s death, blank shots were fired at a synagogue in the Paris working-class suburb of Argenteuil. Services for the Jewish festival of Sukkot were thereafter cancelled.

Police 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.

They also seized documents from the flat.

Hollande said France, which has western Europe’s largest Muslim population, should not “stigmatize” its estimated 4 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.”

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 6-year-old girl 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,” he added.

The 11 arrested suspects were born in the ’80s and ’90s, the Paris prosecutor said, adding that some were “common criminals who set out on a path of radicalization 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 Sunday complained of increasing hate crimes. “The facts speak for themselves. Anti-Semitic acts are increasing rapidly,” Alain Jakubowitz, head of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, told the Journal du Dimanche.

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

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

The French Council of the Muslim Faith Sunday expressed its “support to and solidarity with the Jewish community in the wake of the attacks targeting its members and institutions.”

Recalling the slayings by Islamist gunman Mohamed Merah – who shot dead a rabbi, three Jewish pupils and three paratroopers in March – the head of the organization, Mohammed Moussaoui, said this case was sadly “far from being isolated or exceptional.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 08, 2012, on page 11.




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