Police arrested five Chechens in southern France on suspicion of preparing an attack, a police source said Tuesday, nearly two weeks after Islamist militants killed 17 people during three days of violence in the French capital.
The source said four of them were arrested in Montpellier or nearby, and a fifth in Beziers. The Midi Libre newspaper reported a cache of explosives was found during police searches near a stadium in Beziers.
The case has not been passed on to the anti-terrorist section of the Paris prosecutor's office, a judicial source said. Local TV chain LCI said organized crime and score settling between Chechen gangs was at the source of the suspects' plan.
Speaking to reporters, prosecutor Yvon Calvet said the arrests were “outside of all radical-religious context,” but he did not specify the suspects’ alleged crimes.
France remains on security alert after gunmen stormed the Paris offices of the Charle Hebdo magazine Jan. 7 and killed 12 people, in what they said was revenge for cartoons it had published mocking Islam. Another five people were killed during two further days of violence that shocked France.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told reporters Tuesday that the recent attacks in Paris had exposed a "geographic, social and ethnic apartheid'' in France.
"Relegation of some to the suburbs, ghettos, things I was already talking about in 2005 [the year of riots in French suburbs], a geographic, social, ethnic apartheid which has developed in our country," Valls said. "Social misery, to which is added daily discrimination, because you haven't got the right surname, the right skin color, or because you're a woman. It is by no means, and you know me, about looking for excuses, but we also have to look at the reality of our country.''
France has been on high alert since the terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in the French capital earlier this month.
Hundreds of thousands of people protested in Russia's Chechnya region on Monday against what its Kremlin-backed leader called "vulgar and immoral" cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by Charlie Hebdo.