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French Police Arrest Islamist Suspects in Raids

A French police vehicle is parked near a house where an alleged jihadist was arrested earlier on December 15, 2014, in Graulhet, southwestern France.

French police detained nearly a dozen Islamist suspects in raids early Monday following a months-long investigation. Reports say those arrested include would-be jihadists hoping to join the fight in the Middle East and their recruiters.

French media reports the arrests took place at approximately the same time across the country, yielding the reported arrests of about 10 people. There was no immediate, official statement about the detentions.

But according to police sources, those detained were between 19 and 34 years old. They include both would-be jihadists as well as several people who had returned from Syria, where authorities fear they may have joined the ranks of the Islamic State and other radical groups.

A lawyer for one of the suspects, Thomas Herin Amabile, told France's BFMTV he had spoken to his client for half an hour, but lacked information about what he is suspected of.

Jihad popularity rising

Authorities say the numbers of French nationals heading to Iraq or Syria to join the Islamist insurgency has shot up by 80 percent since January. They estimate more than 1,100 are implicated in various jihadist groups.

Overall, about 3,000 Europeans have tried to join the insurgency, with most coming from France or Belgium. Experts say many even have non-Muslim backgrounds - like Maxime Hauchard, a young man from Brittany who was filmed in a bloody Islamic State video of the execution of Syrian soldiers.

Commentator Alexandre Del Valle, an expert on radical Islam, believes that France and Belgium top the list for a reason.

"It is interesting because Belgium, francophone Belgium, and France are the most secularist countries in the West.... And I think it is also one explanation why integristes [radicals] can be very radical in those countries... because they really think that the state is really an anti-God, anti-religious state," says Del Valle.

Police opened investigations leading to Monday's arrests more than a year ago. They say the suspects kept low profiles. France is particularly concerned about radicals returning from Syria and Iraq to wage war at home.