Bloomberg News

Sarkozy to Bar Radical Clerics as Toulouse Probe Expanded

March 27, 2012

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks in Nice, France, on March 9, 2012. Photographer: Frederic Nebinger/Getty Images

French President Nicolas Sarkozy speaks in Nice, France, on March 9, 2012. Photographer: Frederic Nebinger/Getty Images

President Nicolas Sarkozy, seeking to combat the radicalization of French Muslim youth, said he’ll ban hard-line clerics from entering France as investigators deepened a probe into whether the Toulouse killer acted alone.

Sarkozy’s response to the murders hasn’t helped him narrow the gap against Socialist Francois Hollande, with the presidential vote less than a month away, three polls today showed. Sarkozy announced the ban measure as investigators yesterday reviewed the activities of the killer’s brother Abdelkader Merah before the attacks that left seven people in the Toulouse area, including three Jewish children, dead.

Abdelkader helped his 23-year-old brother Mohammed Merah steal the scooter used to escape from the sites of the attacks, bought his helmets, and was located by his mobile-phone network near the Jewish school several times in the days before the shootings, France 2 television reported, citing police officials. Abdelkader was indicted by an anti-terror judge on charges of complicity on March 25. He denies any involvement.

“There are still gray areas in this investigation, which has just started,” Frederic Pechenard, the head of the national police, said in an interview yesterday on RTL Radio, adding that investigators are still unsure whether Merah acted alone.

Sarkozy said yesterday he’d prevent Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim theologian with a widely watched Al Jazeera television program, from entering France for a conference next month. He today called on called on television stations not to broadcast the video of the killings. The gunman filmed all his attacks, with the content of the camera “extremely explicit,” the French prosecutor investigating the case said last week.

Clampdown

The president, has announced a series of measures since police on March 22 killed the self-declared jihadist Frenchman who murdered three soldiers and slayed three children and a teacher at Jewish school in a nine-day shooting spree.

Sarkozy has said he’ll criminalize frequenting Internet sites of groups that support terrorism. “The law considers those who frequent pedophilia sites to be pedophiles, so we can consider those who frequent sites that apologize for terrorism to be terrorists,” he said.

The clampdown comes as Paris prosecutors March 25 opened a formal investigation against Abdelkader, 29, saying in a statement that “serious and corresponding signs” showed he might have helped the killer. If found guilty, he could be imprisoned for life, France 2 said.

Abdelkader through his lawyer has denied early reports that cited him saying he was proud of his younger brother’s acts. He denied playing any role in the killings or being aware of his brother’s plans.

Campaign Fodder

Mohamed Merah, who was of Algerian descent, was shot dead at his Toulouse house by the police on March 22 after a 32-hour- long siege. His deadly attacks, which put the presidential campaign on hold for three days, are now being debated.

Sarkozy has blamed Socialist Challenger Hollande, who is leading in the polls, for not having voted the country’s most recent terror laws. The first round of the election will be held on April 22, with the second round set for May 6.

A BVA poll published today by Le Parisien showed that security is not a top priority for the French; purchasing power and unemployment are. Recent polls show Sarkozy gaining in the polls for the first round, while remaining about eight points behind Hollande in a potential run-off.

Hollande would beat Sarkozy by 54 percent to 46 percent in the run-off, according to both a Harris Interactive poll and an Ipsos survey. In both cases, the previous poll showed a 56 percent to 44 percent gap. A biweekly Ifop Fiducial poll for Europe 1 radio, Paris Match and Public Senat showed Hollande would win a head-to-head race 54 percent to 46 percent. The last survey gave him a 54.5 percent to 45.5 percent lead.

Blame Game

Hollande, who toured the island of Corsica over the weekend, blamed Sarkozy for not having improved security during his five-year mandate and promised to fight gangs and petty criminals, who he said help feed terrorism with guns and money.

“It is unworthy to question the work of the security forces who risked their lives,” Sarkozy said at a rally near Orleans in central France yesterday. “The French can be proud of the work of their intelligence services and their police.”

State prosecutor Francois Molins disclosed at a press conference March 22 that intelligence officers had questioned Merah in late 2011 about his two trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Molins said that since he didn’t travel with any terror networks it wasn’t clear if he ever did any terrorism training. Merah told intelligence officials that his trips had been for tourism, and had photos to back up his claims.

‘Lone Wolf’

“It was the worst combination: he was what we call a lone wolf and belonged to no terror networks,” Ange Mancini, France’s national intelligence coordinator, told Le Parisien March 25. “Every year, several dozen French citizens visit Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are watching the French people who go there,” he said, adding that the police could not ”watch everyone all the time.”

Pechenard, the police chief, told Journal du Dimanche that ”thousands of young French people” have gone to countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Egypt for religious training, and “it’s not illegal.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Helene Fouquet in Paris at hfouquet1@bloomberg.net; Gregory Viscusi in Paris at gviscusi@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Vidya Root at vroot@bloomberg.net


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