Le Pen says anti-Islam agenda is vindicated

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen says her anti-Islam agenda has been vindicated after a French Muslim claiming ties to al-Qaida took responsibility for the country’s worst killing spree in years.

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen says her anti-Islam agenda has been vindicated after a French Muslim claiming ties to al-Qaida took responsibility for the country’s worst killing spree in years.

The spectre of radical Islam’s grip on France has threatened to shake up France’s presidential race, in which socialist François Hollande has long been the favourite to unseat the divisive conservative president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Ms Le Pen, running third in polls, said France must “wipe out” the Islamist threat, saying it has been minimised by authorities.

Mr Sarkozy has taken a leaf from Ms Le Pen’s book in campaigning for the presidential election on Apr 22 and its expected run-off on May 6, with talk of halving immigration.

It is too soon to tell how the two-day stand-off with Mohammed Merah could affect Mr Sarkozy’s chances for a second term.

Merah, who bragged to police about killing seven people in an effort to “bring France to its knees”, died yesterday in a shootout with police in Toulouse.

A poll released yesterday suggested Mr Sarkozy may benefit politically from the horror of recent days.

The survey by CSA suggested Mr Sarkozy would lead the first round of voting in April but lose to Mr Hollande in the May run-off by 36% to 45%. That was the smallest spread yet and the highest score for Mr Sarkozy so far for polls by CSA.

Support for Ms Le Pen was notably down. The poll was conducted on Monday and Tuesday, after a rabbi and three children were shot dead at a Jewish school but before details about Merah emerged.

In many French minds now lurks the memory of Spain’s 2004 election, which came three days after train bombings in Madrid by Islamic terrorists. In that case the incumbent conservatives had expected to win but lost to the socialists.

Ms Le Pen’s far-right National Front claims so-called Islamisation is corrupting French culture and will change France if no one acts against the influx of Muslim immigrants and the growing demands of Muslims born on French soil. France has about five million Muslims.

The revelation Merah was a Frenchman of Algerian origin who claimed al-Qaida ties and travelled twice to Afghanistan resonated among candidates.

Muslim and Jewish leaders joined in a single voice to warn against any bid to stigmatise Islam. “Muslims like Jews, Jews like Muslims, and condemn all confusion that might be made between the international political situation in the Middle East and the monstrous act that… has horrified all French,” France’s grand rabbi Gilles Bernheim said after meeting Muslim leaders.

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