PARIS (Reuters) - Police in France and Belgium arrested eight suspected militant Islamists on Tuesday in dawn raids three weeks after jihadists killed 17 people in Paris.
“A particularly dangerous and organized network was broken up today,” said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, whose government has deployed thousands of soldiers and extra police since the Jan. 7-9 attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket.
Elite police troops, many of them hooded and heavily armed, arrested five people aged 26 to 44 in the raid in Lunel, a small town near France’s Mediterranean coast.
Two of the arrested had returned from Syria, a police source said.
Lunel has attracted intense attention in recent months after local media reported that as many as 10 people from the town, of a population of just 25,000, had sought to travel to Syria to fight alongside jihadists, in particular the Islamic State group. Cazeneuve said on Tuesday those reports were accurate.
In Belgium, where earlier this month police killed two gunmen in one of several raids, three men were arrested in Kortrijk, a town some 10 km (6 miles) from the French border, prosecutors said.
Police searches found weapons in the homes of the men suspected of having links to “radicalized groups”.
Since the Charlie Hebdo killings, police in Belgium, France and Germany have interrogated dozens of Islamist suspects, and in Paris last week French prosecutors put four men suspected of helping prepare the Paris attacks under formal investigation.
Reporting by Nicolas Bertin and Brian Love in Paris and Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; Editing by Andrew Callus and Robin Pomeroy