PARIS – Police carried out raids across France on Saturday after DNA on a grenade that exploded last month at a kosher grocery store led them to a suspected jihadist cell of young Frenchmen recently converted to Islam.
The man whose DNA was identified, named by police as Jeremy Sydney, was killed by police after he opened fire on them, slightly wounding three officers in the eastern city of Strasbourg. Officials said he had been under surveillance since last spring – around the time a French Islamic went on a shooting rampage against a Jewish school and French soldiers, killing seven people.
Police union official Mohamed Douhane told the television network BFM that a suspect in the eastern city of Strasbourg opened fire when police arrived and they returned fire, killing him. He said no officers were badly hurt, thanks to bulletproof vests.
French authorities said the man was a member of an ultraconservative Salafi Muslim group.
Eleven other suspects were arrested across the country Saturday, according to the Sipa news agency. One man was carrying a loaded gun, and police found weapons, cash and a list of Paris-area Israeli associations during the raids.
Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said all the arrested suspects were French and recent converts to Islam. They were all born in the 1980s or early 1990s. Four of the men involved in the raid had written wills.
“You can imagine what their other plans could have been,” Eric Voulleminot, a counterterrorism official, said at a news conference with Molins.
The prosecutor described 33-year-old Sydney, sentenced in 2008 to two years in prison for drug trafficking, as a “delinquent who converted to radical Islam.” He said others in the cell indicated they wanted to return to “the land of jihad.”
A statement from French President Francois Hollande praised the police for the raids and said the state would continue to “protect the French against all terrorist threats.”
Last month’s firebombing of the grocery, in a Jewish neighborhood outside Paris, happened on Sept. 19, the same day a French satirical paper published crude caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Anti-Western protests were also growing at the time against an anti-Islam film. One person was slightly injured, but the attack came after a summer of what residents described as growing anti-Semitic threats.
France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, is trying to contain the spread of a radical Islam hostile to Western influences.
The prosecutor was careful not to draw direct links between Saturday’s arrests and Mohamed Merah, a young Frenchman of Algerian descent who died in a shootout with police in March after the killings in the south of France. That attack terrorized the French Jewish community, which has since ramped up security in many parts of the country.
Merah had studied at an Islamist paramilitary camp in Pakistan and claimed ties to al-Qaida. Molins said officials did not believe the men arrested Saturday had trained abroad, but cautioned that the investigation was ongoing.
Source: Times Of Israel