SEVENTEEN suspected Islamist terrorists are being held in custody for police questioning.
Police made arrests in several parts of France of figures including Mohammed Achamlane, leader of a group called Forsane Alizza (meaning “the knights of freedom”), which is suspected of preparing terrorist action.
Arrests took place in the Ile-de-France and in the areas of Nantes and Toulouse and in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
Interior Minister Claude Guéant said in Le Parisien that Forsane Alizza “were doing weekly physical training that looked like paramilitary sessions”.
Arms, including Kalashnikovs, were seized during the raids, on Friday, Mr Guéant said.
The head of interior security agency DCRI, Bernard Squarcini, said the operation was justified by the “genuine dangerousness” of Forsane Alizza. He said it has been seeking to firmly establish itself, with a leader in each region and seemed to be “preparing a kidnapping”.
Achamlane’s lawyer, Benoit Poquet, called the accusations “scandalous”.
Some Opposition politicians have said the operation – which comes shortly after the murders in Toulouse in Montauban – is electioneering. President Sarkozy has said there is no direct link with the killings, even though “a context exists”.