French president Nicolas Sarkozy promised a robust response to the recent shootings in the southern city of Toulouse.
Today French police arrested 19 suspected Islamists in a series of dawn raids across the country.
Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Time magazine’s Paris correspondent Vivienne Walt about the raids.
Read the Transcript
The text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to firstname.lastname@example.org. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised a robust response to the killings in Toulouse earlier this month, and today, that response was evident. Police in France arrested 19 suspected Islamist militants in a series of raids. Several were in Toulouse, the southern city where self professed al-Qaeda sympathizer Mohamed Merah killed seven people. Merah, who was killed last week after a standoff with police, was buried yesterday. Vivian Walt is Time magazine’s Paris correspondent. She says the suspects arrested today had been on the government’s radar well before the shooting in Toulouse.
Vivian Walt: Many of the people, probably all of them, have been under surveillance for a long time. These are, many of them, connected to Jihadi movements that operate in France, one in particular which has been in operation for several years. So the police have these people under surveillance for a long time and quite usefully under watch actually; they were you know, hoping to really piece together some bigger picture of what Islamist movements might be planning, whether there is kind of sinister attack in the works. And now that they’re in custody it’s very hard to tell what they can gain from these people at all.
Werman: So this comes right after the Merah shooting spree. Sources say the arrests are not related, but the French prosecutor has said they are still looking for accomplices. Does that suggest a wider terror cell or network?
Walt: I think that obviously French officials are really quite terrified that there will be another attack. They were caught absolutely off guard with this one. And if one can imagine that it really only took one lone person with not very sophisticated weapons to bring the whole country to a standstill for days, and it could happen again, it certainly could. So in that respect the country I guess does feel a certain sense of safety with these 19 people behind bars.
Werman: What impact could this have on upcoming presidential elections in France, with President Sarkozy flexing his muscle this way, especially with regards to the Muslim community?
Walt: Well, this has already had a major impact on the election campaign. Until two weeks ago President Sarkozy was so way behind in the polls, really nobody thought he had any chance at all of reelection, which the first round of which is in three weeks time. And suddenly you have a fully narrow race between him and the Socialist candidate, Francios Long. Sarkozy has made up a lot of ground from the Mohamed Merah incident, and it’s not simply a matter of security. It’s also a matter of the fact that President Sarkozy showed a side of himself that French people have simply forgotten about; he came out as a human being with a big heart, and he was deeply moved at this new role. Suddenly there was Nicolas Sarkozy the human being that had somehow been in hiding for quite a long time.
Werman: And so how does France’s moderate Muslim community feel about all this?
Walt: There are certainly a number of Muslim leaders who would probably prefer to have President Sarkozy in charge for a second term in office because it does suggest that there will be a slightly law and order policy. And for a lot of Muslim leaders the nightmare scenario is a kind of Jihadi movement that grows up within the poor, marginalized suburbs around the elite cities of France. It has been a problem for many years and it’s likely to be the problem for many years.
Werman: Vivian Walt, Time magazine’s Paris correspondent, thanks as always, Vivian.
Walt: You’re welcome.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at email@example.com.