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ISLAM

French police swoop on ‘Islamic extremists’

French police arrested about 20 suspected Islamists in dawn raids on Friday, most of them in the hometown of an extremist who was shot dead by police last week after a killing spree.

Agents from France’s DCRI domestic intelligence agency swooped in to carry out the arrests, most of them in the southern city of Toulouse a day after Al-Qaeda-inspired gunman Mohamed Merah was buried there, sources close to the investigation said.

The arrests were “not directly linked” to the Merah investigation, but were aimed at dismantling Islamist networks, one source said. 

Some of the arrests also targetted people in the western city of Nantes.

The arrests came a day after Merah, who was shot dead by a police sniper on March 22 at the end of a 32-hour siege at his flat in Toulouse, was buried in the city under heavy police watch.

The 23-year-old had shot dead three soldiers, and three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in a killing spree that shocked the country.

The man branded a “monster” by French leaders was laid to rest in Toulouse’s Cornebarrieu cemetery after his family’s homeland Algeria refused to accept the body, citing security concerns.

French authorities have charged Merah’s brother Abdelkader with complicity in the attacks and said they were looking for other accomplices.

Abdelkader Merah was charged with helping his sibling steal the powerful Yamaha scooter used in the shootings and police have said they were seeking a third person who may have been involved in the theft.

Merah recorded his killings with a camera strapped to his body and police have said an accomplice may have been involved in mailing a montage of the videos to Al-Jazeera.

The video was reportedly sent to the channel’s Paris bureau from outside Toulouse while Merah was already besieged in his flat by police.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed a crackdown on Islamist extremists in the wake of the killings, saying earlier this week that he had ordered the domestic intelligence agency to “check in detail the situation in our country of all persons identified as a potential risk to national security”.

On Thursday France banned four Muslim preachers from entering the country to attend an Islamic conference, saying their “calls for hatred and violence” were a threat to public order.

Saudi clerics Ayed Bin Abdallah al-Qarni and Abdallah Basfar, Egyptian cleric Safwat al-Hijazi and a former mufti of Jerusalem Akrama Sabri are banned from entering France, a statement said.

“These people’s positions and statements calling for hatred and violence seriously damage republican principles and, in the current context, represent a serious threat to public order,” said the statement from Foreign Minister Alain Juppé and Interior Minister Claude Guéant.

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ISLAM

Erdogan calls French separatism bill ‘guillotine’ of democracy

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday denounced a planned French law designed to counter "Islamist separatism" as a "guillotine" of democracy.

Erdogan calls French separatism bill 'guillotine' of democracy
Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as "anti-Muslim". Photo: Adem ALTAN/AFP

The draft legislation has been criticised both inside France and abroad for stigmatising Muslims and giving the state new powers to limit speech and religious groups.

“The adoption of this law, which is openly in contradiction of human rights, freedom of religion and European values, will be a guillotine blow inflicted on French democracy,” said Erdogan in a speech in Ankara.

The current version of the planned law would only serve the cause of extremism, putting NGOs under pressure and “forcing young people to choose between their beliefs and their education”, he added.

READ ALSO: What’s in France’s new law to crack down on Islamist extremism?

“We call on the French authorities, and first of all President (Emmanuel) Macron, to act sensibly,” he continued. “We expect a rapid withdrawal of this bill.”

Erdogan also said he was ready to work with France on security issues and integration, but relations between the two leaders have been strained for some time.

France’s government is in the process of passing new legislation to crack down on what it has termed “Islamist separatism”, which would give the state more power to vet and disband religious groups judged to be threats to the nation.

Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as “anti-Muslim”.

READ ALSO: Has Macron succeeded in creating an ‘Islam for France’?

Last October, Erdogan questioned Macron’s “mental health”, accusing him of waging a “campaign of hatred” against Islam, after the French president defended the right of cartoonists to caricature the prophet Mohammed.

The two countries are also at odds on a number of other issues, including Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.

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