After an initial expression of national unity following the killings of seven people by Mohammed Merah, France has descended into “political recrimination and criticism,” says the New York Times. Presidential elections are to be held in just four weeks and the major candidates had suspended campaigning after the attacks on Monday and the previous week. But as government officials have sought to defuse questions about whether French intelligence advisers could have stopped Merah, candidates have been questioning how President Nicholas Sarkozy handled the attacks.
A video of the apartment where Merah was besieged for over 30 hours has been released by French media. His brother, Albdelkader, has been arrested and said that he is “proud” of his brother’s acts; his unnamed girlfriend and mother, Zoulika Aziri, have also been arrested.
Before the past two weeks, the campaign had focused on economic issues. Now commentators are asking if the aftermath of Merah’s killings could be an “Oklahoma City” for Sarkozy, writes Eric Paper on Foreign Policy. How indeed was Merah able to stockpile a number of firearms including several automatic weapons, which are difficult to procure in France? According to the Wall Street Journal, the FBI had placed Merah on their terrorist watch list following his arrest in Afghanistan in 2010. French authorities have said that they knew that he had been to Afghanistan and Pakistan and that Merah had been under surveillance.
François Hollande, the Socialist front-runner and chief rival to Sarkozy, outright suggested that authorities ought to have been able to stop Merah and that there was a “flaw” in intelligence officials’ tracking of him. Marine Le Pen, of the far-right National Front, accused her rivals of not addressing “security issues, and more particularly, the problems of Islamic fundamentalism”; these, she said, had been “willfully pushed out of the themes of the campaign.”
Sarkozy is also being criticized for a harsh and fast crackdown on terrorism. On Thursday, he proposed a new law that would put repeat visitors to extremist websites behind bars and he is meeting with ministers and police chiefs on Saturday.
Nonetheless, according to polls cited in the Guardian, two-thirds of voters approve of Sarkozy’s response to the crisis. Hollande received 28 percent of support to Sarkozy’s 30 percent.
21-year-old Caroline Monet, the pregnant fiancée of French paratrooper Abel Chennouf who was killed at a cash machine in Montauban, is seeking permission to posthumously marry him at a ceremony in a few weeks. In France, such ceremonies are allowed in cases where a fiancé dies prior to the wedding; such ceremonies must be approved by the French president and are only possible in “grave circumstances.” A family lawyer for Gilbert Collard described such a ceremony as “really moving, with an empty chair representing the dead spouse.”
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