French police arrest suspected Islamists
Paris - French elite police on Friday arrested about 20 people in morning swoops on suspected Islamist circles in several cities including Toulouse, scene of the killings of four Jews and three soldiers this month, a police source said.
The arrests in Toulouse in the southwest, Nantes in western France, the Paris region and southeast France were carried out by the RAID police commando unit and anti-terrorist specialists, although the raids were not directly related to the killing spree by gunman Mohamed Merah, according to the source.
The raids come just over a week after police hunted down and killed Merah and less than a month from a presidential election in which internal security was turned into a bigger campaign issue by the wave of murders in Toulouse.
The al-Qaeda-inspired Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, admitted during a siege of his apartment that he had shot dead three soldiers, three Jewish school children and a rabbi in three attacks in Toulouse and the surrounding region.
The police source said the raids were not directly related to a continuing investigation into the case of Merah, whose brother Abdelkader has been placed under official inquiry and is being held in custody on suspicion of complicity.
The same police source said several of the people arrested on Friday were believed to be close to a radical Islamist group called Forsane Alizza that was recently outlawed.
Several guns and a bullet-proof vest were seized in Friday's raids, another police source said.