French police dismantle network that targeted Jews

 

FRENCH PRESIDENT François Hollande pledged to increase security around synagogues and enact tougher anti-terrorism laws after a series of police raids dismantled an alleged Islamist network that targeted Jews.

A 33-year-old man suspected of a grenade attack on a Jewish market was shot dead by police in Strasbourg on Saturday morning and 11 others were detained in what prosecutors called “a huge anti-terrorist operation”.

The police raids, which took place simultaneously in Paris, Strasbourg, Nice and Cannes, were connected to an incident in which a grenade was thrown into a kosher market in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles on September 19th. One person was wounded in that attack.

Seeking to reassure France’s Jewish community, the largest in Europe, Mr Hollande invited seven leaders of Jewish groups to the Élysée Palace.

“I have reaffirmed that the state will not compromise in fighting racism and anti-Semitism. Nothing must be tolerated,” Mr Hollande said after the meeting.

Tensions have been running high in the Jewish community over a series of attacks and threats, including death threats against the chief rabbi of Lyon and an attack with a hammer and iron bars on three young Jewish men.

On Saturday evening, blank bullets were fired from a car at a synagogue in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil while worshippers were inside.

In the worst such violence, three children and a rabbi were shot dead in March outside a Jewish school in the southern city of Toulouse by a radical Islamist inspired by al-Qaeda. The gunman also killed three soldiers in a 10-day rampage.

“After the Toulouse tragedy, we would have hoped and thought there would be an end to the anti-Semitic atmosphere in our country. Unfortunately, anti-Semitic acts have multiplied,” Joël Mergui, president of the Paris Central Consistory, said after meeting the president.

Mr Hollande said the government would bring to parliament a Bill to better combat terrorism. It would allow police to arrest people suspected of terrorism-related activities beyond France’s borders, and to access the emails or internet communications of potential terrorists.

He also said places of worship would receive increased surveillance and protection, “because secularism, one of France’s fundamental principles, directs the state to protect all religions”.

Paris prosecutor François Molins said the man killed by police in Strasbourg was a 33-year-old French citizen who “appeared to be a delinquent converted to radical Islam”. He said the deceased was one of two men who lobbed the grenade into the Sarcelles market last month.

The 11 arrested suspects were born in the 1980s and 1990s, Mr Molins said.

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.

Following his meeting with Jewish leaders, Mr Hollande met the head of the French Muslim Council, Mohammed Moussaoui, and said that scapegoating the community would not be tolerated.

“French Muslims must not suffer from radical Islam. They are also victims,” Mr Hollande said in a statement. Mr Moussaoui pledged the solidarity of France’s Muslim community to their Jewish compatriots.