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France

More arrests to come after French police net 17 suspected Islamists

media French special polce raid a home on Nantes on Friday Reuters/Stephane Mahe

French police detained 17 supected Islamist plotters on Friday after dawn raids in several cities, including Toulouse where Mohamed Merah was shot dead by police last week after a killing spree in south-west France.

More arrests are likely to follow.

Police have told news agencies that they have about 100 people in their sights and French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared that there will be other operations that will lead to a number of people being deported.

Among those arrested in the western city of Nantes was Mohammed Achamlane, the leader of Forsane Alizza, a group that was banned at the end of February. Three Kalashnikovs, a Glock pistol and a grenade were seized from his home, police sources said.

Other weapons, including five rifles, handguns and tasers, were also seized in the raids in Toulouse, Nantes, Marseille, Lyon, Nice, Paris and other parts of the country. A replica Kalashnikov and a bullet-proof jacket were also seized.

The Islamists were already under police surveillance and, like Merah, had been to “sensitive” countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Iraq.

The raids were “not linked only to Toulouse” and targeted “a form of radical Islam”, Sarkozy told Europe 1 radio.

Sarkozy compared the effect of Merah’s trail of murder on French consciousness to the effect of the 2001 attacks on the United States.

"What must be understood is that the trauma of Montauban and Toulouse is profound for our country, a little - I don't want to compare the horrors - a little like the trauma that followed in the United States and in New York after the 11 September 2001 attacks," he said.

The raids come the day after Merah was buried on French territory, because Algeria, where his father lives, refused to allow him to be buried on its soil, claiming that the move could be a threat to public order.

France’s intelligence services face criticism for not predicting Merah’s attacks, although they had been tracking him for several years.

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