PARIS (AP) – Seven people suspected of links to a radical Islamist group have been taken in for questioning in southern France, police and judicial officials said Thursday.
The seven were taken into custody Tuesday in the southern cities of Toulouse, Montpellier and Carcassonne, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of their offices’ policies.
Authorities believe they had been in contact with radical Islamists who allegedly trained to fight in Iraq by firing weapons in the woods of eastern France. Those suspects were rounded up in a November sweep.
Police raids of the suspects’ homes at the time turned up munitions, handguns and pump and automatic rifles, officials said. Preliminary charges were filed against five of the November suspects for “criminal conspiracy with a terrorist organization,” a broad charge often used in terror-related cases in France. Officials said the group had not made definite travel plans for Iraq, but was training to fight there.
Police and anti-terror investigators say anger over the Iraq war has radicalized some young Muslims in France, which has Western Europe’s largest Muslim population, estimated at 5 million.
Judicial authorities believe dozens of youths, some just young teens, have left from France for Iraq to join the insurgency. Some have been killed there. Police have been worried that some French youths with roots in North Africa may be traveling to Iraq, without being noticed, via Algeria and Morocco.
French counterterrorism officials are concerned that such militants could return home with skills learned in combat and carry out terror attacks in France, even though the country opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.