Preliminary charges have been made against 13 Islamist radicals in France, accused of calling for Muslim Sharia law in the country, stashing weapons and hatching plots, one to the judge.
Prosecutor Francois Molins said that members of the Forsane Alizza group received physical training in parks and forests around Paris and religious indoctrination “in order to take part in a jihad,” or holy war.
The group preached hate and violence on their internet site which “called for an Islamic caliphate in France, the application of the Sharia and incited Muslims to unite to prepare for civil war,” Mr Molins said. The site, which also showed clips of Osama bin Laden, was shut down after authorities banned Forsane Alizza in March.
The charges handed down against some members of Forsane Alizza, or Knights of Pride, comes amid a crackdown on Islamist extremists following the March killing spree in southern France by a 23-year-old claiming links to al-Qaida. Gunman Mohamed Merah was killed after a 32-hour stand-off with police.
France has expelled a foreign radical imam and an Islamist militant and others were in line to be forced to return to their homelands.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said there was now “zero tolerance” for hate speech and ideologies which do not conform with the values of France.
“You will see that in the weeks to come we will continue this absolutely systematic work of assuring the protection of the French by not tolerating such activities,” he said of the Forsane Alizza group.
The 13 – among 17 suspects detained in police raids last week – faced preliminary charges of criminal association linked to a terrorist network, a sweeping charge with a maximum 10-year prison term that is used in France to ensure a full investigation of terror suspects. Nine of the 13 are being held in jail, Mr Molins said. The other four must report regularly to police. Charges of acquiring, transporting and detention of arms also were issued.
The remaining four of the 17 who had been detained were being released.
The prosecutor said several terror plans appeared to be in the works, including the kidnapping of the judge in Lyon.
Mr Molins said the investigation, which formally opened in late October, showed the network was organised around Forsane Alizza leader Mohammed Achamlane from the Nantes region in western France.
“All the suspects confirmed Mohammed Achamlane’s role of animator, co-ordinator and emir and his constant concern about acquiring weapons,” Molins said.
Mr Molins said the plan to kidnap a magistrate who dealt with a child abuse case of a member of the Lyon cell was hatched at a September meeting. The magistrate in question has been placed under police protection. Other potential targets included people from groups that have spoken out against the Muslim community.
Police found stashes of weapons during their raids last Friday in the Paris region and the cities of Nantes, Marseille, Nice, and Toulouse as well as documents and computer equipment. The probe so far has shown that members had consulted internet sites showing how to make explosives, Mr Molins said.
He stressed the group had no link to the three attacks last month around Toulouse that left seven people dead – three paratroopers, a rabbi and three Jewish school children.
Authorities have said they view the case of Merah, the suspected gunman, as an example of so-called lone wolf terrorism, contending he radicalised alone in his prison cell.