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Asia-Pacific

French far right on offensive as police besiege suspected Toulouse killer

media Paris mosque rector Dalil Boubakeur and Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim after … Reuters/Benoit Tessier

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen called for war on “fundamentalist politico-religious groups” as police besieged a self-styled “mujaheddin” believed to have carried out a killing spree in southern France. As most politicians called for calm, Le Pen accused the authorities of “laxism”.

President Nicolas Sarkozy met Muslim and Jewish religious leaders at the Elysée presidential palace on Wednesday morning before going to Toulouse where the suspect, Mohamed Merah, was under siege.

“I insisted on meeting them together,” Sarkozy said, adding, “Terrorism must not succeed in fracturing out national community.”

Sarkozy insisted that the attacks had nothing to do with religion, a message echoed by Paris mosque rector Dalil Boubakeur and Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim.

But, while declaring that “the majority of French Muslims behave respectably", Le Pen insisted that the three attacks in nine days showed that “the fundamentalist danger has been underestimated”.

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“Fundamentalist politico-religious groups are developing in the face of a certain laxism,” she told the iTélé TV channel.

“We must now wage this war against politico-religious fundamentalists who kill our children, who kill our Christian children, our Christian young men, out Muslim young men and our Jewish children two days ago.”

Three Jewish children and a teacher were killed outside a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday. Merah says that he killed them as well as three soldiers of north African and Caribbean origin and is reported to have trained and fought with the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Le Pen also attacked two other presidential candidates, the Left Front’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Modem’s François Bayrou, who refused to observe a political truce after the killings and blamed the violence on a climate of intolerance whipped up French right-wing politicians. They were no longer worthy to stand, she said.

Timeline of French attacks

Mélenchon hit back by labelling Le Pen “a poor woman” and declaring that the killer was a “madman” and a “criminal”.

“What he says has no political significance,” he said.

Merah has declared that his attacks were revenge for the deaths of Palestinian children in the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as for French military interventions abroad and the French ban on wearing full-face cover.

At a meeting in the south-eastern city of Grenoble on Monday Bayrou called for a moment of “national reflection” and slammed those who “pour oil on the fire for electoral reasons”. That was widely taken as a reference not only to Le Pen but also to Sarkozy and his allies, notably Interior Minister Claude Guéant who has been accused of Islamophobia in a number of recent statements.

“Don’t let’s add the ignoble to the horrible,” Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppé responded on Tuesday, declaring that the attack had nothing to do with the election campaign.

Bayrou, Sarkozy, Le Pen, Socialist candidate François Hollande, Green Eva Joly and neo-Gaullist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan attended the funeral of the soldiers killed in Montauban on Wednesday.

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