President Nicolas Sarkozy announced March 30 that French police have arrested 19 persons suspected of belonging to violent Muslim networks. “These arrests are linked to the world of a certain sort of radical Islamism,” Sarkozy told Europe 1 Radio, and added that automatic weapons were found in the homes of some of those arrested in the raids in and around Paris and several other French cities.
It is striking that Sarkozy added matter-of-factly that the arrests were not related to Mohamed Merah, the Muslim terrorist killed by police last week after he murdered seven people in the Toulouse area. This raises some troubling questions.
If the arrests were not related to Merah, it stands to reason that the authorities were in possession of information warranting today’s action well in advance of his murderous spree. That the raids were not carried out earlier indicates either a culture of permissive negligence in the French security apparatus—the one that allowed Merah to operate freely, in spite of his long history of terrorist connections—or else a political ploy by Sarkozy, calculated to improve his rating in advance of a two-round presidential election scheduled for April 22 and May 6. Most likely both elements were present: the police had not considered those 19 potential jihadists worthy of a commando-style raid until prompted by the Élysée Palace to deliver a high-profile action now.