Sarkozy accused of exploiting Islamists’ arrest for campaign
PARIS OPPONENTS of France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy accused him on Wednesday of stage-managing a high-profile round-up of suspected Islamists in order to boost his re-election hopes.
Police carried out their second wave of arrests of suspected extremists in a week, just as Socialist flagbearer and opinion poll frontrunner Francois Hollande unveiled a detailed plan for his hopedfor first year in office.
Coverage of Hollande’s plans was drowned out on rolling news networks by images of the arrests, conducted by teams of heavily-armed and masked police accompanied on the dawn swoop by forewarned television crews.
The arrests came in the wake of a murderous shooting spree last month by a self-declared Al Qaeda supporter, and were ordered by independent antiterror magistrates, but Sarkozy’s opponents accused him of seeking to exploit them.
“Police operations of this sort, under the authority of the judiciary, should not be done, it seems to me, in the form of a stage-managed advertising campaign,” said centrist candidate Francois Bayrou.
“Security and staged events are different things,” he said.
Hollande, who has seen his lead in April 22 first round voting intentions whittled away since last month’s attacks but is still forecast to win a May 6 run-off, was more cautious, and did not accuse Sarkozy directly. But he did suggest that the right-wing president, who has a reputation as a tough law-and-order campaigner, “could or should have done more beforehand” if the suspected groups posed a security threat in France.
And the leader of his Socialist Party, Martine Aubry declared: “I’m for being tough, not for making a spectacle, and I’m always shocked when the television crews are there. Let the judiciary do its work.” Last month, 23-year-old extremist Mohammed Merah was killed by a police sharpshooter after a two-week series of attacks which saw him kill three French paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a trainee rabbi.
Prosecutors said Merah had boasted before his death of being an Al Qaeda militant, but that he appeared to have radicalised himself with Islamist reading in prison before making a short trip to Afghanistan.
Since the shootings, France has also cracked down on a banned domestic Islamist group, Forsane Alizza, suspected of planning kidnappings.
Thirteen alleged members were charged Wednesday under anti-terror legislation.
But Wednesday’s fresh arrests — concentrated in the southern port city of Marseille and the northern town of Roubaix — targeted “lone individuals with Mohammed Merah’s profile” according a police source. In Roubaix, a dozen journalists, some of them tipped-off by officials, were on hand to witness police armed with assault rifles make two arrests, of a man wearing a traditional North African robe and of a woman.
“He’s done nothing. He’s a son of France. Because he has a little beard, wears a djellaba and goes to the mosque to pray, they say he’s violent, he’s a terrorist,” said the 28-yearold suspect’s 64-year-old father. “There were a dozen of them. They didn’t even ring the doorbell. They just smashed in the door. Why didn’t they knock?” demanded the young man’s mother, insisting that her son was no radical.