More global arrests as coalition against the Islamic State grows
A global effort to clamp down on the activities of the Islamic State and its supporters appears to accelerating, as France and Kosovo join in the fray, arresting scores of potential recruits for the al-Qaeda-inspired.
Six people were detained in France on suspicion of recruiting candidates for the fighting in Syria and Iraq, a judicial source said on Wednesday as the number of French citizens travelling to Iraq and Syria continued to grow.
The suspects, two of whom are minors, were held in the suburbs of the eastern city of Lyon as part of an "anti-terrorism" probe launched in July.
According to a police source, a brother and a sister are among those detained since Tuesday, and one of the suspects is linked to Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride), a militant group that had called for France to become an Islamic caliphate and was banned in 2012.
The detentions come amid concerns in France that its nationals were going to fight abroad and would return home to plot acts of terrorism.
According to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, around 930 French citizens have travelled to and from the two violence-ridden countries recently, a 74-percent increase in eight months.
The country's lower house National Assembly has been debating an anti-terrorism bill, of which a key measure is a travel ban on anyone suspected of "planning to travel abroad to take part in terrorist activities, war crimes or crimes against humanity or in a theatre of operations of terrorist groups."
The measure - which was approved by the National Assembly on Tuesday evening - would see suspects have their passports and ID cards confiscated for six months, renewable for up to two years.
Similar anti-IS linked crackdowns have also begun happening in other parts of Europe, with Kosovo authorities on Wednesday arresting a leading Muslim clerics along with 14 other people others for allegedly recruiting fighters destined for Iraq and Syria, local media reported.
Police confirmed they had targeted 16 locations and detained 15 people across Kosovo in the second operation of its kind since August, but did not give details of those arrested.
Local media said imams from several cities were detained, including Kosovo's top radical cleric, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Pristina, Shefqet Krasniqi.
The vice chairman of radical Islamic political party LISBA, Fuad Ramiqi, was also arrested, according to media reports.
In mid-August, Kosovo police arrested 40 people on similar charges. Weapons, ammunition and explosives were seized as special police units raided 60 locations across Kosovo, including makeshift mosques believed to have served as recruiting centres.
Earlier this month, a Kosovo journalist said he had received dozens of threats via social networks, some of them threatening him with beheading, for drawing attention to the rise of Muslim extremism.
Journalist Visar Duriqi, who specialises in political Islam, said most of the threats came after the murder of US journalist James Foley, who was beheaded by a member of the Islamic State group on 19 August.
Kosovo, with a population of 1.78 million is a Muslim-majority country, although religion plays only a minor part in public life and tends to take a moderate form.
Nonetheless, local media say as many as 150 Kosovars are thought to have volunteered to fight in the Syrian civil war against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. Police say at least 16 have been killed in Iraq and Syria so far.
The arrests in France and Kosovo also mirror further incidents in the Middle East, which have seen local authorities get tough with suspected militants.
A court in Saudi Arabia on Monday jailed 13 defendants for up to 10 years on charges that included joining an Islamist group and fighting overseas.
The 13 were part of a larger group of 32 defendants and were convicted of "following the Takfiri doctrine", a term usually used to refer to al-Qaeda, the official SPA news agency said.
They were also convicted of charges including fighting abroad, supporting fighters financially, and helping "mislead" people travelling to conflict zones, SPA said.
Scores of Saudis are believed to be in the ranks of militant Islamist groups in areas of unrest across the Middle East, including Syria.
In recent weeks, the US has been pushing to form a global alliance against Islamic State and says that more than 40 countries - including 10 Arab states - have now signed up. The US-led alliance will provide military assistance and support to select forces fighting IS on the ground. It has also vowed to try and root out the group through other means, including political reform and humanitarian assistance.