Paris: Preliminary charges are being filed against 13 Islamist radicals in France, a prosecutor announced Tuesday, saying some had been calling for Muslim Shariah law in the country, stashing weapons and hatching plots, one to kidnap a judge.
Prosecutor Francois Molins told a news conference that members of the Forsane Alizza, or Knights of Pride, group received physical training in parks and forests around Paris and religious indoctrination "in order to take part in a jihad," or holy war. The group preached hate and violence on their Internet site which "called for an Islamic caliphate in France, the application of the Shariah and incited Muslims to unite to prepare for civil war," Molins said.
The site, which also showed clips of late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was shut down after authorities banned Forsane Alizza in March.
The charges handed down against some members of Forsane Alizza come amid a crackdown on Islamist extremists following the March killing spree in southern France by a 23-year-old claiming links to al Qaeda. The suspected gunman, Mohamed Merah, was killed after a 32-hour standoff with police.
France expelled a foreign radical imam Monday and an Islamist militant and others were in line to be forced to return to their homelands.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday on Canal Plus TV that there is now "zero tolerance" for hate speech and ideologies which don`t conform with the values of France.
"You will see that in the weeks to come we will continue this absolutely systematic work of assuring the protection of the French by not tolerating such activities," he said of the Forsane Alizza group.
The 13 — among 17 suspects detained in police raids last week — faced preliminary charges of criminal association linked to a terrorist network, a sweeping charge with a maximum 10-year prison term that is used in France to ensure a full investigation of terror suspects. Nine of the 13 are being jailed, Molins said. The other four must report regularly to police. Charges of acquiring, transporting and detention of arms also were issued.
The remaining four of the 17 who had been detained were being released.
The prosecutor said several terror plans appeared to be in the works, including the kidnapping of a judge in Lyon, in southeast France. An official close to the investigation said the targeted judge is Jewish.
Molins said the investigation, which formally opened in late October, showed the network was organized around Forsane Alizza leader Mohammed Achamlane from the Nantes region in western France.
"All the suspects confirmed Mohammed Achamlane`s role of animator, coordinator and emir and his constant concern about acquiring weapons," Molins said.
Molins said the alleged plan to kidnap a magistrate who dealt with a child abuse case of a member of the Lyon cell was hatched at a September meeting. The magistrate in question has been placed under police protection.
Other potential targets included people from groups that have spoken out against the Muslim community, the prosecutor said without elaboration. It was not known whether this was a reference to groups actively seeking to protect the French identity and decrying what they claim is the Islamization of France. Such groups are gaining strength around France, and have been joined by far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.
Achamlane`s lawyer later denied his client was involved in preparing terrorist acts, saying "there is no material act, no material incident constituting preparation of an act of terrorism, or even kidnapping."
Achamlane "formally contests what is imputed to him," said the lawyer, Philippe Missamou.
He claimed the reference to kidnapping of a judge was made at a public meeting of the group and others protesting an investigating magistrate`s handling of the child abuse case — and blaming it on "injustice" because the group member was Muslim.
The prosecutor said police found stashes of weapons during their raids last Friday in the Paris region and the cities of Nantes, Marseille, Nice, and Toulouse as well as documents and computer equipment. The probe so far has shown that members had consulted Internet sites showing how to make explosives, Molins said.
The prosecutor stressed the group had no link to the three attacks last month around Toulouse that left seven people dead — three paratroopers, a rabbi and three Jewish school children.
Authorities have said they view the case of Merah, the suspected gunman, as an example of so-called lone wolf terrorism, contending he radicalized alone in his prison cell.
However, investigators are still searching for any potential accomplices of Merah`s and his older brother remains in custody.