PARIS (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande pledged on Sunday to increase security around synagogues and introduce tougher anti-terrorism measures, a day after a series of police raids dismantled a radical Islamist network that targeted Jews.
Seeking to calm the fears of France’s Jewish community, the largest in Europe, Hollande invited seven leaders of Jewish groups to the presidential palace where he promised support to fight a rash of anti-Semitic attacks.
“I have reaffirmed that the state will not compromise in fighting racism and anti-Semitism. Nothing must be tolerated,” Hollande told reporters outside the presidential palace.
Tensions are high in the Jewish community over a series of attacks and threats. They have ranged from death threats against the chief rabbi of Lyon, to an attack with a hammer and iron bars on three young Jewish men.
On Saturday evening, blank bullets were fired from a car at a synagogue in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil while worshippers were inside.
In the worst such violence, three children and a rabbi were shot dead in March outside a Jewish school in Toulouse by a radical Islamist inspired by al Qaeda, who also killed three soldiers in a 10-day rampage.
“After the Toulouse tragedy, we would have hoped and thought there would be an end to the anti-Semitic atmosphere in our country. Unfortunately, anti-Semitic acts have multiplied,” Joel Mergui, president of the Paris Central Consistory, told reporters after meeting Hollande.
Since he was elected in May, the Socialist president has proved to be tough on law-and-order issues.
But he remains caught between the need to crack down on crime and campaign promises to be more inclusive than his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, whose often harsh rhetoric on Islamist issues offended many Muslims.
Hollande said on Sunday the government would introduce to parliament a bill to better combat terrorism.
The legislation would allow police to arrest people suspected of terrorism-related activity outside France’s borders, and allow police to access the emails or Internet communications of potential terrorists.
Hollande also said places of worship would receive increased surveillance and protection.
On Saturday, police special forces carried out a series of early-morning raids across France to dismantle what authorities called a radical Islamist network.
Eleven people were arrested and police shot dead a 33-year-old man they said was one of two men who lobbed a grenade inside a Jewish market in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles in September, wounding one.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls told TF1 television on Saturday terrorist threat existed in France, and said he did not rule out more arrests related to the Sarcelles investigation.
The head of Jewish umbrella group CRIF, Richard Prasquier, called radical Islam a “monstrous ideology”.
“Being indulgent towards radical Islamism is the same as being indulgent towards Nazism,” he told reporters.
Following his meeting with Jewish leaders, Hollande met the head of the French Muslim Council, Mohammed Moussaoui, and said that scapegoating the community would not be tolerated.
“French Muslims must not suffer from radical Islam. They are also victims,” Hollande said in a statement.
Moussaoui similarly released a statement in which he pledged solidarity from France’s Muslim community and made a distinction between those engaged in anti-Jewish attacks and the vast majority of Muslims.
The Grand Mosque of Paris said French Muslims must “be aware of the worrying situation” of young Muslims involved in terrorist groups and said religious leaders should find solutions to avoid the spread of activity “contrary to the values of the Republic and the humanist principles of Islam”.
France’s 5 million Muslims are the largest Islamic minority in Europe.
Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Alison Williams