French police hold six in anti-jihadist raids

Anti-terrorism police in the city of Strasbourg launched a series of raids in the early hours of Tuesday morning, French media reported. Officers are believed to have arrested a number of French nationals who recently returned from waging jihad in Syria.

French police hold six in anti-jihadist raids
French anti-terrorism police officers take part in a series of raids on suspected anti-jihadists in Strasbourg. Photo: Screengrab I-Tele

Six French nationals suspected of fighting a holy war in Syria were arrested in raids by anti-terrorism police on Tuesday, according to reports.

France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the raids were "new proof of the government's total determination to fight with all its might against terrorism and the recruitment of young people through violent radicalization."

The six suspects are believed to have left for Syria in December to join the jihad, before returning to French soil in recent weeks.

According to Europe1 radio, around 14 would-be jihadists from Strasbourg left the city, after telling their families they were going to Dubai on holiday.

Strasbourg : coup de filet anti-djihadistes en… par Europe1fr

But instead the men headed for Turkey, before crossing the border in Syria. Media reports says the men were recruited via social media channels.

French authorities have become increasingly concerned about the terrorism threat posed by jihadists returning from Syria to France.

In April the government launched an anti-jihad plan to try to prevent young French nationals being radicalized and then leaving for Syria.

The anti-radicalization plan presented by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve seeks to thwart online recruitment efforts and make it harder for would-be fighters, especially the youngest ones, to get out of France.

Additionally France wants to work the families left shattered by their loves ones' departures.

"The emergence of a new generation of seasoned terrorists likely to strike on French territory, demands a fixed, firm and effective response from the state," said Cazeneuve on announcing his proposals.

"An entirely repressive response is not enough to stem the phenomenon. Preventive actions to counteract the "preachers of hate" will also be implemented," Cazeneuve said.

As part Cazeneuve's anti-jihad plan a telephone hotline was set up, that allowed members of the public and families to report, potential jihadists to police, to try and prevent them from leaving.

The hotline received around 24 "relevant" calls in a matter of days after it went live. Five of those calls concerned French nationals, who had left for Syria.

French authorities estimate there are around 300 French citizens fighting in the Syria, with around another 120 on their way to the country. Some 100 had already returned to France from the Middle East.

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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.