Shootings ignite presidential terror debate

The self-declared Al-Qaeda fighter holed up in a besieged flat in southern France on Wednesday has forced the issue of Islamist terror to the heart of the French presidential race.

Shootings ignite presidential terror debate
i-Télé screenshot

As President Nicolas Sarkozy called for national unity, some of the candidates seeking to replace him in next month’s vote began to manoeuvre to take advantage of the mood of crisis generated by the gunman’s attacks.

The gunman, said to be a young Frenchman of Algerian descent, is sought for the murders of three Jewish children, a teacher and three soldiers.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen – running in third place in the polls – was first off the blocks, claiming: “The danger of fundamentalism has been underestimated in our country.”

Brushing off protests from a television interviewer that she was seeking to manipulate a national tragedy for her own ends, Le Pen insisted she had warned of the dangers of extremist violence before the killings. 

“Politico-religious groups are developing in a lax climate,” she said.

“We need to fight this war against politico-religious fundamentalist groups which are killing Christian children, young Christian men, young Muslim men and, two days ago, Jewish children,” she added.

A spokesman for far-left challenger Jean-Luc Melenchon did not mince his words in response, denouncing Le Pen’s National Front as “vultures” feeding at the scene of the crimes.

“Throughout this campaign, yesterday as today, Marine Le Pen has had the same goal — to feed a Crusader spirit inspired by religious war under the theory of a clash of civilisations,” alleged Alexis Corbiere.

Centre-right candidate Francois Bayrou also accused the “extreme right” of trying to “surf” to power on the back of the violence.  

The tensions running through French society were thrown into stark relief on Wednesday by the spectacle of four of the candidates for the April 22 first round vote thrown together on a single plane.

Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande, Green outsider Eva Joly, Le Pen and conservative eurosceptic Nicolas Dupont-Aignan were forced to travel together to attend a ceremony for the three slain soldiers.

Hollande, forecast to beat Sarkozy in the second round run-off on May 6 by polls taken before the attacks, sat in the first row, Le Pen in row five, Joly in row six and Dupont-Aignan near the mid-section.

It was not clear if the candidates planned to speak during the journey, but the events have thrown predictions for their campaign into chaos. 

If the situation is dealt with quickly, Sarkozy may win credit for being the man in charge when the killer was caught just two days after his third attack – unless voters ask why the militant was not under closer watch.

Opinion pollsters said all surveys taken before the crisis had suggested that voters care more about jobs and household spending power – and trusted Hollande more than Sarkozy on these issues.

If the national debate switches to security and immigration as a result of the killings, this could benefit Sarkozy, as he is judged more credible on this topic by most voters, analysts told AFP.

Nevertheless, Gael Sliman of BVA-Opinions told AFP: “If the suspect gives himself up this afternoon then the election campaign could resume its normal course within the next few days.”

For at least five months Hollande has enjoyed a clear lead over the right-wing incumbent in opinion polls, at least in second-round voting intentions, but Sarkozy has begun to make up ground.

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Surgeon fined for trying to sell Paris terror attack victim’s x-ray

A Paris court on Wednesday convicted a surgeon for trying to sell an X-Ray image of a wounded arm of a woman who survived the 2015 terror attacks in the French capital.

Surgeon fined for trying to sell Paris terror attack victim's x-ray

Found guilty of violating medical secrecy, renowned orthopaedic surgeon Emmanuel Masmejean must pay the victim €5,000 or face two months in jail, judges ordered.

Masmejean, who works at the Georges-Pompidou hospital in western Paris, posted the image of a young woman’s forearm penetrated by a Kalashnikov bullet on marketplace Opensea in late 2021.

The site allows its roughly 20 million users to trade non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – certificates of ownership of an artwork that are stored on a “blockchain” similar to the technology used to secure cryptocurrencies.

In the file’s description, the surgeon wrote that the young woman he had operated on had “lost her boyfriend in the attack” on the Bataclan concert hall, the focus of the November 2015 gun and bomb assault in which jihadists killed 130 people.

The X-Ray image never sold for the asking price of $2,776, and was removed from Opensea after being revealed by investigative website Mediapart in January.

Masmejean claimed at a September court hearing that he had been carrying out an “experiment” by putting a “striking and historic medical image” online – while acknowledging that it had been “idiocy, a mistake, a blunder”.

The court did not find him guilty of two further charges of abuse of personal data and illegally revealing harmful personal information.

Nor was he barred from practicing as prosecutors had urged, with the lead judge saying it would be “disproportionate and inappropriate” to inflict such a “social death” on the doctor.

The victim’s lawyer Elodie Abraham complained of a “politically correct” judgement.

“It doesn’t bother anyone that there’s been such a flagrant breach of medical secrecy. It’s not a good message for doctors,” Abraham said.

Neither Masmejean, who has been suspended from his hospital job, nor the victim were present for Wednesday’s ruling.

The surgeon may yet face professional consequences after appearing before the French medical association in September, his lawyer Ivan Terel said.