France arrests imam in Chechnya probe

French police have arrested eight Muslims as part of an investigation into "planned" anti-Russian attacks in France.

    There are five million Muslims in France

    Anti-terrorist officers from the DST domestic security

    service swooped on the suspects in dawn raids in the Venissieux

    suburb of Lyon on Tuesday.

    Chellali Benchellali, the imam of Venissieux mosque, was

    detained along with his wife Hafsa and one of their sons, Hafed,

    as well as up to five others.

    "(The arrests) will act as a brake on all these networks and

    this radical and political Islam which is doing so much harm in

    our suburbs," Venissieux mayor Andre Gerin, a communist, said

    .

    Guantanamo Bay

    Another of the imam's sons, Mourad Benchellali, was previously arr

    ested

    by US forces in Afghanistan and is being held at the US

    military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

    Around 10 people, mostly of Algerian origin, are already in

    detention as part of the Chechnya-related investigation launched

    by French magistrates in December 2002. Among the 10 is another

    of Chellali Benchellali's sons, Menad.

    "(The arrests) will act as a brake on all these networks and

    this radical and political Islam which is doing so much harm in

    our suburbs"

    Andre Gerin,
    Venissieux mayor

     

    The 10 are accused of planning attacks on Russian interests

    in France, including the Russian embassy in Paris, to avenge the

    death of an Arab-born Chechen fighter killed by Russian

    troops.

    Fouad Alaoui, of the Union of Islamic Organisations of France, told Aljazeera.net that arrests of Muslims for political reasons are

     rare in France.

    Islamophobia

    He added that it was too early to comment on this particular incident, and would have to wait for the facts to emerge.

     

    But his organisaton has claimed in the past that a racist, Islamophobic climate exists in France, and Arabs and Muslims are often its victims.

    Russia has been intermitently fighting a war against the Muslim Chechens

    since the

    Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

    Russian troops marched back into

    Chechnya in 1999 after a 1994-96 war ended in de facto

    independence for the region.

    Support for the Chechen cause is strong amongst France's Muslims, as it is throughout Muslim communities all over the world.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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