French police: Detained Islamists' were plotting kidnap

On high alert

MARSEILLE (France) - Several of the 17 people detained by French police in a crackdown on suspected Islamist networks might have been plotting a kidnap, the head of the police intelligence's unit said Saturday.
"They appeared to be preparing a kidnap," Bernard Squarcini of the Central Directorate for Domestic Intelligence (DCRI) told La Provence newspaper.
He did not elaborate on the alleged plot, but said the group was made up of "French nationals" who were involved in "collective war-like training, linked to a violent, religious indoctrination."
Some of those arrested belonged to a suspected extremist group called Forsane Alizza, he said.
"The group was dissolved as of February 29 and the funds of 26 of its members were frozen, but they continued to carry out physical training exercices in parks and woods and sought weapons," Squarcini told the Marseille-based newspaper.
They were involved in paintball gun games, he said.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant, for his part, told le Parisien newspaper that "members of Forsane Alizza took part in weekly physical training which can be considered paramilitary training."
The arrests on Friday took place in several cities, including Toulouse, where extremist gunman Mohamed Merah was shot dead by police last week after a series of cold-blooded shootings that left seven dead, including three Jewish children.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the arrests were not directly linked to the Merah case, but he has called on police to increase its surveillance of "radical Islam" in what the opposition has described as a vote-catching move just a month ahead of a presidential election.
In the course of the latest arrests, police recovered "several computers, sim cards, weapons, money, 10,000 euros in small notes, four Kalashnikov rifles, eight rifles, seven or eight handguns, a taser, tear gas grenades," Squarcini said.
At least two of the Kalashnikov rifles were not serviceable, police sources said.
Those detained were still being held on remand Saturday, police said.
Alleged Forsane Alizza leader, Mohammed Achamlane, is among them.
His lawyer, Benoit Poquet, Saturday denied that his client was involved in terrorist activities.
"My client categorically denies ever having taken part in any sort of terrorist activity," Poquet told Presse Ocean newspaper.
The lawyer also suggested the whole case was brought to the fore "because of the electoral campaign".
The DCRI has come under criticism because of its failure to keep track of Merah, despite the fact that he travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2010 and 2011.
The conservative government this week rejected a call by the socialist opposition, which controls the Senate, parliament's upper house, for a hearing of intelligence chiefs into the matter.