French press review 24 March 2012
Today, the dailies look into the possible failure of France's security services to detect Toulouse killer Mohamed Merah’s intentions. They also examine the police operations that led to his death.
In the face of criticism over the handling of the Merah case - coming largely from the opposition - Le Figaro and Le Monde devote their pages to France's top three senior security figures.
“Guéant calls on the socialists to be dignified,” Le Figaro's cover story reads. French Interior Minister Claude Guéant chose the conservative daily to explain police actions in an exclusive interview.
He admits that Mohamed Merah acted as a “lone wolf." He said it was the first time the police had had to deal with such a threat and it was “difficult to anticipate since it was an individual act.” “So what do you say to the socialists who accuse the police of delays in unmasking the terrorist?" asks the daily.
The interior minister defends the work of the police, saying that since the 1996 bombing of Port Royal, France had not had a terrorist attack until last week. And this is where the interview gets frightening.
“If we managed to avoid major terrorist attacks, it’s because since 1997 we arrested 1,473 terrorists and put 392 of them in jail. At the moment, 243 individuals are in prison on terrorism charges,” says the minister.
He then goes on to accuse the left of contradictory behaviour: “The socialists always say that we don’t do enough and at the same time they oppose new measures or legislation, which we propose to improve the efficiency of the police.”
"Merah wanted to join Allah and the 72 virgins.” These are the words used by Amaury de Hauteclocque, the head of the special police unit, RAID, which was in charge of apprehending the Toulouse terrorist. He gives the chilling, minute-by-minute account of the operation.
The interview shows a determined and clever young man who tricked the police into believing that he was going to surrender, just to gain time to transform his apartment into a “combat zone.” de Hauteclocque claims that his team did everything possible to get the terrorist alive.
But, according to him, “Merah chose his destiny. He wanted the combat.” “My men risked their lives to try and get him alive,” says the officer. And in reply to numerous critics, he concludes the interview by saying that he would not have done things differently and that the operation plan was the best possible.
The head of the Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (DCRI), Bernard Squarcini, chose Le Monde to defend his agency’s handling of the investigation, which led to finding the terrorist.
“Of course we are asking ourselves if we could have done things differently. Of course we are looking into whether we missed anything. But Sunday night, before the school shootings, it was impossible to claim it was Mohamed Merrah,” regrets Squarcini.
In the interview, he paints Merah as a self-educated fundamentalist with a possible psychiatric disorder due to a childhood history of violence. "On the surface, he did not have the qualities of a radical fundamentalist," said Squarcini.
According to him, the DCRI investigated Merah after his trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan and found no hints of radicalism. Merah did not even attend a mosque on a regular basis. “This case is atypical, irrational and violent.”
The DCRI director concludes by repeating his regrets that the agency could not have found Merah more quickly.
So, what impact has Sarkozy’s handling of the Toulouse shooter had on the opinion polls?
Le Figaro publishes an analysis of the latest opinion polls, calling campaigning "a new game." “The trends of various polls are similar,” says the paper. From now on, Sarkozy and Hollande look to be running neck and neck in the first round of elections. “It is impossible to predict who will win the first round,” says Le Figaro.
For the second round, however, the socialist candidate is still believed to be ahead by eight points, 54 per cent against 46 for Sarkozy. We will have to wait and see if Sarkozy can manage a spectacular breakthrough less than a month before the elections.
Let’s change the subject.
The left-wing Libération draws a portrait of Macky Sall, the former prime minister of Senegal, with its title “The winner against the Old Man.” The man is widely believed to be the front-runner in Senegal's presidential run-off tomorrow.
The daily’s journalist accompanies the presidential candidate during a rally in one of Dakar’s poorest suburbs. He describes delirious crowds meeting the former prime minister of Abdoulaye Wade.
According to the candidate, he's so popular because he’s been campaigning since 2008 when he got fired by Wade. “If I am elected, my first act as president would be to impose the limitation of two five-year terms in the constitution, as opposed to the seven we have currently,” promises Mr Sall.
But are there any risks of intervention by the army or the police on behalf of the outgoing president? “This is not Mali. The army and the police do not get mixed up in politics. And we will serve the winner with loyalty,” says one of the President Wade’s body guards.
But let’s conclude on a lighter note with a beautiful Toulouse-Lautrec painting on the front page of Le Figaro’s culture section. The Parisian-based daily proudly declares, with just a hint of snobbery: "Museums… there’s a life outside Paris!"
The paper goes on by saying that the artist would never have imagined that the paintings of La Goulue and the Chocolat clown would one day be displayed in a Bishop’s palace.
La Goulue was a French cancan dancer who performed under the stage name of La Goulue ("the glutton") and was also referred to as the "Queen of Montmartre." The Chocolat clown is another one of Lautrec’s famous paintings.
The article celebrates the re-opening of the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi, in the South of France. According to the article, the newly-renovated museum has the biggest collection of the artist’s work.
So during your summer holidays if you are in the South of France, don’t forget to pay a visit to this museum, featuring one of the most fascinating painters of 20th century.