Paris: Elite police arrested 10 suspected Islamists in early morning raids across France on Wednesday in a clampdown ordered by President Nicolas Sarkozy after seven people were killed by an al Qaeda-inspired gunman last month.
The DCRI domestic intelligence service, supported by elite police commandos, carried out arrests in the southern cities of Marseille and Valence, two towns in the southwest and in the northeastern town of Roubaix, a police source said.
The raids follow the arrest of 19 people on March 30, a week after police snipers shot dead al Qaeda-inspired gunman Mohamed Merah, who killed three Jewish school children, a rabbi and three soldiers in a spate of attacks around Toulouse.
"Those arrested have a similar profile to Mohamed Merah," a local police source said. "They are isolated individuals, who are self-radicalized."
He said the suspects were tracked on Islamist forums expressing extreme views and said they were preparing to travel to areas including Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Sahel belt to wage jihad (holy war).
Some of those arrested had already been and returned to France, the source said.
Sarkozy, who is facing an uphill task to be re-elected president in an April-May vote, has vowed to root out any form of militancy following Merah`s killing spree.
Thirteen of the 19 people arrested last Friday are alleged to have links to radical French Islamist group Forsane Alizza. They are being investigated on suspicion of terrorism, the Paris public prosecutor said on Tuesday.
Wednesday`s raids were not linked to either those arrests or the Merah attacks, the source said.
The Toulouse killings have lifted domestic security up the political agenda 2-1/2 weeks before the April 22 first-round vote and may have improved Sarkozy`s chances against Socialist rival Francois Hollande, who he trails in the polls.
Sarkozy, a former interior minister, has been accused by some opponents of capitalizing on the Islamist threat for electoral purposes even though only 20 percent of voters consider it their main concern, surveys show.
Speaking on RTL radio, Hollande declined to be drawn on whether he thought the raids were politically driven.
"If there are suspicions and risks, then they must be acted upon," Hollande said. "But why do it after a terrorist act? I am not questioning what is being done, but we could have done more before," he said.