France News of the Week by our news partner, Le Figaro in English
Terror in Toulouse
Horror swept across France Monday morning when the Toulouse shooter struck again in perhaps his bloodiest and most cold-hearted murder: killing a rabbi, his two young sons (age 4 and 5) and a little girl (age 7) outside of a Jewish school. The police were already on high alert for the scooter-riding shooter who had already assassinated three French soldiers of North African origin.
On Wednesday, the police announced that they had cornered the suspect, 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, in his apartment. Merah, a self-proclaimed Salafi extremist, also claimed to be associated with Al Qaida and to have committed his murders to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children.
A 32-hour stakeout followed and negotiations were led with Merah until police lost all contact with him Wednesday evening. Unsure if Merah was dead or alive, police launched a siege on Thursday morning. Merah was ready and waiting, launching himself at police with “extreme violence.” Though the police had hoped to take Merah alive, he died in the struggle when an officer shot Merah. Merah, who was leaping from the balcony when he was shot, was found dead on the ground.
Police found footage of the murders in Merah’s apartment. Investigations continue as police hope to find out if Merah really was acting as part of the Al-Qaida network or if he was a lone killer who adopted their name.
What are the election effects of the Toulouse and Montauban shootings?
The Toulouse tragedy and subsequent raid on Mohamed Merah’s apartment unfolded in mid-French presidential election. Candidates suspend their campaigns for several days in honor of the victims of Monday’s shooting, but the tragedy has still become an election topic as candidates take stands on security, terrorism, extremism and multiculturalism.
Acting (in his words) as president and not as candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy announced several new and controversial anti-terrorism measures on Thursday following the police siege. These measures, compared by some to the Patriot Act, include possible prison sentences for visitors to extremist Web sites and French citizens who travel abroad for “courses in indoctrination.” Sarkozy insisted these will be put into action before the elections. This may or may not happen as elections are about a month away.
Questions of security brought to the forefront by this tragedy may be bad campaign news for the Left, who are notoriously weaker on issues of security. But Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been running a hard right campaign, will have to rein it back several notches on questions of integration and multiculturalism. Don’t expect to hear more about halal meat, for example, from the president-candidate, who will probably be sticking more to lines like “our Muslim brothers have nothing to do with the crazy motives of a terrorist.”
Mexican Supreme Court says Florence will not be freed
After gathering on Wednesday evening, the five Mexican Supreme Court judges refused to liberate imprisoned Frenchwoman Florence Cassez. Her chance at liberation hinged on the circumstances of her arrest and if she had been denied international consular rights when she was arrested on charges of kidnapping in 2005.
Though the consular rights route to freedom is now blocked off for Cassez and her lawyers, the judges did leave the door open for a possible new trial on the facts of the case. Cassez still maintains her innocence.
Cassez’s imprisonment has become an international source of tension. In 2009, French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s request for her liberation was denied by the Mexican government.
Lining up the swimmers
Qualifying rounds for the French summer 2012 Olympic swimming team were held at Dunkerque this week. On Tuesday, Laure Manaudou qualified for the team when she became the French champion in the 100 meter backstroke. Thursday brought an unexpected turn of events when French swimmer Alain Bernard was eliminated from the 100 meter competition. Bernard was the winner in this category at the last Olympics.
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