Hostages: Le Pen hints at Homeland scenario

The leader of France's National Front party Marine Le Pen has been accused of “paranoid delusion”, after expressing her “unease” on Thursday at the beards and attire of the four Frenchman who were held in captivity by Al Qaeda-linked rebels until their release this week.

Hostages: Le Pen hints at Homeland scenario
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has hinted at a Homeland style conspiracy theory over the four French hostages released by Al-Qaeda rebels this week. Photo: @NavyerM

The question being asked by many in France on Thursday, is whether National Front leader Marine Le Pen has been watching too much Homeland – the American TV drama in which an American marine 'turns' and becomes a radical Islamist terrorist during his captivity in Iraq.

The controversy comes after the far-right politician expressed her “unease” at the behaviour and appearance of four former hostages, upon their emotional return to France on Wednesday – even demanding that one of the men explain why he wore an Arab scarf.

Many in France were moved and heartened by images of the four men – described as “great French citizens” by French president François Hollande – being reunited with their loved ones after three years in captivity at the hands of Al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

During her interview with Europe 1 radio on Wednesday morning, Le Pen was asked if she shared in that emotion.

“Those images left me very doubtful, quite honestly,” she replied. “I found them astonishing – the extreme reservation [of the hostages]. I found their attire astonishing.”

“I really felt uneasy watching those images, and I don’t think I was the only one.”

(L to R): Freed French hostages Marc Feret, Pierre Legrand, Daniel Larribe and Thierry Dol, stand with French president François Hollande (2nd from R) Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Pressed to clarify exactly what she meant, Le Pen appeared to to imply there were sinister explanations for the group’s behaviour and dress.

“You understand perfectly well what I’m saying, because I think many French people felt this way.”

“They appeared very hesitant and reserved. [There were] the two who had their beards trimmed in an astonishing way. And their clothes were very strange,” she added.

“[Then there was] this hostage with the cheche [Arab scarf] over his face – all of this deserves a few explanations on their part.”

Asked straight out whether she believed the men had been radicalized by their Islamist captors – Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – her response was once again open to various interpretations.

“No, look, I’m not a psychiatrist,” she said. “I’m just expressing to you how I felt, and I think it was shared by a certain number of French people…I’m not going to go as far as coming up with theories, that wouldn’t be my place.”

'A paranoid delusion' that 'sees Islamification everywhere'

Her comments have been criticized on both the Left and Right in France as either unreasonable, or an unacceptable insinuation that some or all of the men had been radicalised by their extremist Islamist captors.

Centre-right UMP senator Roger Karoutchi took to Twitter to ridicule the far-right politician.

“Held in the desert for 37 months. Marine Le Pen would have liked it if the hostages came home close-shaven and wearing three-piece suits.”

Socialist MP Yann Galut, for his part, accused the National Front leader of having “paranoid delusions.”

“Marine Le Pen is giving us a paranoid delusion regarding these hostages. In fact, it’s just an extension of the [kind of] thinking which sees Islamification everywhere.”

Some commentators have also mocked Le Pen for the similarity between what they interpret as an insinuation that the men were radicalized, and the plot of the hit American TV show Homeland.

“Is Marine Le Pen a victim of Homeland syndrome?” asked French news website Metro France.

“A former captive who comes home radicalized after years away – a conspiracy theory worthy of Homeland,” added Metro journalist Julie Mendel.

The episode, perhaps inevitably, inspired an internet meme on Wednesday, with Marine Le Pen portrayed as Carrie Mathison, the paranoid schizophrenic CIA agent who – to the scepticism of everyone around her – accuses US Marine Nicolas Brody of having become an Islamist militant on the Showtime drama.

Blogger Guillaume TC offered this image.

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Hostages safe in Paris armed robbery

Several people taken hostage Friday evening in a Paris travel agency were released safe and sound, police said, but the armed robber who seized them was on the run.

Hostages safe in Paris armed robbery
Photo: AFP

“Armed robbery on Massena Boulevard in Paris: operation over,” police tweeted. “Six people have left. The thief is not on the premises.”

Other police sources said seven hostages had been “found safe and sound “after the hold-up at the travel agency in the Chinatown area of southern Paris' 13th arrondissement.

The incident sparked a major police operation in the French capital, where security jitters remain high after a string of terrorist attacks over the last two years, including the November 2015 Paris attacks which left 132 people dead.

Police set up a security perimeter around the Asieland travel agency, which specialises in Asian travel.

Drivers were warned to stay away from the area. Police sources told AFP earlier that the robber was armed with a handgun.

The agency sits in Paris' 13th arrondissement, a residential area that is packed with Asian restaurants and is home to a large Chinese community.

The ground-floor offices sit at the base of a large residential tower block and next to one of Paris' main tram lines.

The robber had attacked the company at around 6:30 pm (1730 GMT), trapping several people inside.

The hostages were let out around two and a half hours later, “their hands on their heads”, a police source said, adding that they were “taken into the care of emergency services in a neighbouring building”.

Police then searched the building and realised the attacker had fled the scene.

“We saw four or five people coming out with their hands on their heads, followed by around 15 officers,” local resident Zinedine told AFP.

“There was no shooting, we heard no explosion. It's over,” said the 55-year-old, who had left home to buy cigarettes.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo thanked police for their “speed and professionalism” on Twitter, adding: “I offer all my support to the staff and customers of the agency that were confronted with this criminal act.”

The capital is under tight security, with troops patrolling the streets daily, under a state of emergency imposed by President Francois Hollande after last year's Paris attacks.

The hold-up in Chinatown comes at a time of heightened safety concerns among Paris' large Chinese community following a fatal attack on a tailor in August and a series of muggings.

More than 10,000 Chinese Parisians staged a protest march in September calling for increased security for the community following the killing of Zhang Chaolin, beaten to death during a robbery.

Photo: GoogleMaps