A former youth team footballer for Portsmouth FC was among 11 men arrested in France over the weekend on suspicion of being members of an Islamist terror cell, with some reported to have travelled to Syria to fight with extremist militia.
Yann Nsaku, 19, whose football career ended last year after a knee injury, is alleged to be part of a network of French converts to radical Islam who planned to attack Jewish targets as part of a "war on France". Mr Nsaku, of Congolese origin, was arrested at his home in Cannes on Saturday during a series of police raids in which the suspected leader of the network, Jérémie-Louis Sidney, 33, was shot dead. French authorities said yesterday that further arrests may follow.
Several members of the network – which included young men of white French, North African and West Indian origin – are believed to have returned recently from Syria after trying to make contact with jihadist groups taking part in the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad. All are believed to have been recent converts to Islam. Most already had convictions for offences such as theft or drug-dealing.
Mr Sidney was shot dead when he fired at a police unit which raided one of his homes in Strasbourg on Saturday. Traces of his DNA had been found on the handle of a home-made grenade which was thrown at a Jewish food shop in Sarcelles, near Paris, on 19 September. Prosecutors said the other raids in Cannes and in the greater Paris area had uncovered evidence of plans for further attacks on Jewish targets, including a list of all Jewish associations and institutions in the French capital.
Most members of the alleged network – with the exception of Mr Nsaku – were former delinquents from poor, multi-racial districts. Their profile resembles that of Mohamed Merah, the "scooter killer" who killed seven people in a series of attacks in Toulouse and Montauban in March. The network had no known links with Merah but is said to have idolised him, describing his murders as the "battle of Toulouse".
Other police sources said that the group, while dangerous, had displayed a "certain amateurishness". They had posted their radical views on Facebook and discussed their plans on the telephone.
Mr Nsaku, a midfielder, was transferred to Portsmouth from his home-town-team, Cannes, when he was 16. His father, Philippe, told the local newspaper, Nice-Matin, he had converted to Islam after his career was ended by a knee injury.
Several of the group are believed to have tried to make contact with jihadist groups in Syria