French police arrest 10 suspected militant Islamists across France as part of a clampdown ordered by President Nicholas Sarkozy.

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The raid comes weeks after seven people were killed by al Qaeda-inspired gunman, Mohamed Merah, in Toulouse.

"Those arrested have a similar profile to Mohamed Merah," a local police source said. "They are isolated individuals, who are self-radicalised."

However police said there were no direct links between those arrested on Wednesday and Mereh.

The DCRI domestic intelligence service, supported by elite police commandos, carried out arrests in Marseille and Valence, two towns in the southwest and in the northeastern town of Roubaix, according to police sources.

Three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three soldiers were killed in a series of shootings by Mereh, who was eventually killed after being besieged by police.

The suspects were tracked on Islamist forums expressing extreme views and were preparing to travel to areas including Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Sahel belt to wage jihad (holy war), added the police source.

The raids on Wednesday follow the arrest of 19 people on 30 March, 13 of whom are being investigated on suspicion of terrorism, the Paris public prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Politically motivated arrests?

The recent arrests follow President Sarkozy's vow to root out any militancy in the country after Mereh's shooting spree, which sent shockwaves through France.

Mr Sarkozy is campaigning for re-election as president in polls later this month.

The Toulouse killings have raised domestic security up the political agenda only weeks before the 22 April first-round vote. This may have improved Mr Sarkozy's chances against his socialist rival Francois Hollande, whom he trails in the polls.

Critics have accused Mr Sarkozy of capitalising on the Islamist threat for electoral purposes though Mr Hollande, speaking on RTL radio, would not be drawn on whether the raids were politically motivated.

"If there are suspicions and risks, then they must be acted upon," he said. "But why do it after a terrorist act? I am not questioning what is being done, but we could have done more before."