Leloy Claudio

French city’s Muslim community on edge after shootings

Agence France-Presse
A wave of fear has spread in Toulouse, France's Muslim community over the attacks, which targeted soldiers and a crowd outside a Jewish school

TOULOUSE, France (AFP) – Rachid Bouahdadi is so on edge after three deadly attacks by a suspected serial killer on minorities in southwestern France that he jumps at the sound of every scooter passing by.

“I turn around every time I hear the sound of a scooter,” the 31-year-old chemistry student said. “He can come from anywhere. We’re wondering if we shouldn’t stop drinking coffee in pavement cafes.”

Bouahdadi was discussing the attacks with friends in the Toulouse district of Mirail, where a wave of fear has spread in the city’s Muslim community over the attacks, which targeted soldiers and a crowd outside a Jewish school.

The scooter-riding gunman is believed to be behind the murder of an off-duty paratrooper on March 11, of two of his comrades last Thursday (March 15) and of a rabbi and three Jewish children in Monday’s (March 19) school attack in Toulouse.

The dead soldiers were of North African origin, and two of these were Muslim, so many in the region’s Muslim community say they feel targeted.

“There is no security anywhere. Any neighborhood could be targeted,” said one of Bouahdadi’s friends, 39-year-old bricklayer Mohamed Alami.

Community leaders say they fear not only fresh attacks, but also a rise in ethnic and religious tensions that some already blame for the shootings.

“People are in an extraordinary state of psychosis,” said Abdelfattah Rahhaoui, the imam of a local mosque.

“Things are getting worse and worse in France, not enough is being done to put out the flames of hatred between different religious communities,” he said.

“We can expect to see even worse acts,” he said, adding that he hoped the killer “is not a Muslim, because this will put oil on the fire.”

Rahhaoui urged authorities, who have stepped up security at Jewish and Muslim schools and declared a maximum “scarlet” terror alert in the region, to take “necessary” measures to protect local communities.

Many in the community expressed particular horror at Monday’s attack on the Jewish Ozar Hatorah school, which saw the cold-blooded gunman kill a 30-year-old teacher, his sons aged five and four, and a seven-year-old girl.

Ali Boualm, a 65-year-old former construction worker who helped build the Ozar Hatorah school 30 years ago, said he had been completely floored after hearing of the attack.

“We don’t understand what is happening. Either he is sick or a fanatic. Nobody is safe,” Boualm said.

Issam Farchi, a local Muslim community leader, said he believed increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric and inter-ethnic tensions could be at the root of the attacks.

Longstanding tensions over illegal immigration to France rose last year after the Arab Spring revolutions created fears that thousands of new refugees would flood into the country.

Immigration has also become a top theme in the campaign for France’s April-May presidential election, with right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy declaring this month that there were “too many foreigners” in France.

“How did we get to this point? The question must be asked,” Farchi said. “There is a climate, a context. Is it necessary to stir up racism and increase feelings of rejection for electoral reasons?”

If France is to prevent racist killings, he said, the country needs “a real policy against discrimination.” – Agence France-Presse