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Sculpture of Algerian hero vandalised in France

Vandals in central France damaged a sculpture of an Algerian military hero who resisted France's colonisation of the North African country, just hours before it was inaugurated Saturday, AFP journalists reported.

Amboise Castle
Amboise Castle, where Emir Abdelkader was held under guard in the 19th century. The statue of the Algerian military hero in Amboise was vandalised before its inauguration on Saturday. (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP)

The lower part of the steel sculpture in the town of Amboise, where Emir Abdelkader was imprisoned from 1848 to 1852, was badly damaged in the attack which comes in the midst of an election campaign dominated by harsh rhetoric on immigration and Islam.

Amboise mayor Thierry Boutard said he was “ashamed” of those responsible and decided to proceed with the inauguration ceremony regardless.

“I was ashamed that someone would treat an artwork and an artist in this way,” he told AFP.

“My second sentiment is of course one of indignation. This is a day of harmony and unity and this kind of behaviour is unspeakable,” he said.

The sculpture was commissioned to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France, won after a brutal eight-year liberation war that continues to poison relations between the two countries.

It was proposed by historian Benjamin Stora, who was tasked by President Emmanuel Macron with coming up with ways to heal the memories of the war and 132 years of French rule in Algeria.

The silhouette of the Islamic-scholar-turned-military-leader, who resisted French rule but was later feted as a hero in France for his defence of Christians in the Middle East, looks across the Loire river at the castle where he was imprisoned.

Amboise police said they were investigating the incident, which comes two months ahead of a presidential election in which an upstart far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, has repeatedly grabbed headlines with a campaign bashing Islam and immigration from Africa, including Algeria.

‘Nauseating atmosphere’ 
Algeria’s ambassador to France Mohamed Antar Daoud, who attended the inauguration, condemned the attack as an act of “unspeakable baseness”.

“We have to get beyond that,” he said, assuring that attempts to mend fences between France and Algeria would continue because “there is momentum and a desire on both sides to move forward.”

Ouassila Soum, a 37-year-old French woman of Algerian background who attended the inauguration, said the vandalism left her “with a knot in my stomach.”

“It’s a shame and yet it’s not surprising with the rhetoric of hate and the nauseating current atmosphere,” said Soum, hailing the sculpture as “a symbol of the reconciliation between peoples and civilisations.”

Dubbed “France’s worst enemy” in the late 19th century, Emir Abdelkader is considered one of the founders of modern-day Algeria for his role in mobilising resistance to French rule.

The rebellion he led failed however and he surrendered to French forces who shipped him to France, where he and his family spent four years under guard in Amboise castle.

He later moved to Syria where he won international acclaim for defending Christians during sectarian attacks.

He was awarded the Legion of Honour, France’s highest award for his role in trying to end the persecution.

Stora, the historian behind the idea of the sculpture of Abdelkader, slammed the “ignorance” of those who vandalised it.

“Emir Abdelkader had several lives. He fought France but he was also a friend of France. Those who committed this act know nothing about French history,” he told AFP.

Member comments

  1. It is dreadful this act of vandalism occurred, French authorities should take a harsh approach to such anti social behaviour.

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CRIME

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

A French court on Thursday convicted eight men for the theft and handling of a Banksy painting paying homage to the victims of the 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

French court convicts 8 for stealing Banksy from Paris terror attack site

Three men in their 30s who admitted to the 2019 theft were given prison sentences, one of four years and two of three, although they will be able to serve them wearing electronic tracking bracelets rather than behind bars.

Another man, a 41-year-old millionaire lottery winner and street art fan accused of being the mastermind of the heist, was given three years in jail for handling stolen goods after judges found the main allegation unproven. His sentence will also be served with a bracelet.

Elsewhere in the capital, the defence was making its final arguments in the trial of the surviving suspects in the 2015 Paris attacks themselves, with a verdict expected on June 29.

‘Acted like vultures’ 

British street artist Banksy painted his “sad girl” stencil on the metal door of the Bataclan in memory of the 90 people killed there on November 13th, 2015.

A white van with concealed number-plates was seen stopping on January 26, 2019 in an alleyway running alongside the central Paris music venue.

Many concertgoers fled via the same alley when the Bataclan became the focal point of France’s worst ever attacks since World War II, as Islamic State group jihadists killed 130 people at a string of sites across the capital.

On the morning of the theft, three masked men climbed out of the van, cut the hinges with angle grinders powered by a generator and left within 10 minutes, in what an investigating judge called a “meticulously prepared” heist.

Prosecutor Valerie Cadignan told the court earlier this month that the perpetrators had not sought to debase the memory of the attack victims, but “being aware of the priceless value of the door were looking to make a profit”.

She said the thieves “acted like vultures, like people who steal objects without any respect for what they might represent”.

During the trial, Bataclan staff said the theft sparked “deep indignation”, adding that the painted door was a “symbol of remembrance that belongs to everyone, locals, Parisians, citizens of the world”.

Investigators pieced together the door’s route across France and into Italy, where it was found in June 2020 on a farm in Sant’Omero, near the Adriatic coast.

Three men involved in transporting the door were each jailed for 10 months, while a 58-year-old Italian man who owns a hotel where it was temporarily stored received a six-month suspended sentence.

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