President Francois Hollande displayed interfaith solidarity with France’s religious leaders on Wednesday after two Islamist militants killed a Roman Catholic priest in a church, igniting fierce political criticism of the government’s security record.
One of the assailants was a known would-be jihadist awaiting trial under supposedly tight surveillance, a revelation that raised pressure over the Socialist government’s response to a wave of attacks claimed by Islamic State since early in 2015.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged into the politics of Daech (Islamic State), which wants to set the children of the same family against each other,” the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, told journalists after the meeting at the Elysee presidential palace.
He was flanked by representatives of other Christian denominations as well as Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders.
Hollande and his ministers were already under fire from conservative opponents over the policing of Bastille Day celebrations in the Riviera city of Nice in which 84 people died when a delivery man drove a heavy truck at revellers.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is expected to enter a conservative primary for next year’s presidential election, stepped up his attack on Hollande’s record since the first major attack against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last year.
“All this violence and barbarism has paralysed the French left since January 2015,” Sarkozy told Le Monde newspaper. “It has lost its bearings and is clinging to a mindset that is out of touch with reality.”
Sarkozy has called for the detention or electronic tagging of all suspected Islamist militants, even if they have committed no offence. France’s internal security service has confidential “S files” on some 10,500 people, although not all are suspected jihadists.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve rejected Sarkozy’s proposal, saying that to jail them would be unconstitutional and in any case could be counterproductive.
“What has enabled France to break up a large number of terrorist networks is keeping these people under ‘S file’ surveillance, which allows intelligence services to work without these individuals being aware,” he said on Europe 1 radio.