Slain officer’s family warns against viewing all Muslims as extremists
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The family of one of the police officers murdered in Wednesday’s assault by Islamist extremists on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris has appealed to the public not to blame all Muslims for the attack.
Ahmed Merabet, himself a Muslim, was one of the 17 victims of a three-day Islamist killing spree that has shaken France to the core.
He was killed by Chérif and Saïd Kouachi as they escaped from the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo magazine after having mowed down 11 people inside.
Graphic amateur video of Merabet’s death circulated widely online following Wednesday’s attack, with many media showing edited versions.
"I am now telling all racists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites that one must not confuse extremists with Muslims," his brother, Malek Merabet, said at an emotional press conference Saturday in Livry-Gargan (Seine-Saint-Denis). "Stop mixing things up, starting wars, burning mosques and synagogues."
Responding to journalists' questions, he clearly stated that his "brother was Muslim, he was slaughtered by people who were not real Muslims, two terrorists."
Attacks on mosques
The week’s bloody attacks, which ended Friday in two dramatic hostage sieges, have raised fears of a backlash against Muslims in France.
Shots have already been fired and grenades thrown at several Muslim places of worship without causing injuries.
Four shots were fired at the front of a mosque in Albi in the south and racist slogans scrawled on another in the southwestern city of Bayonne. On Friday a pig's head and its entrails were found hanging from the door to a prayer hall in Corte on the island of Corsica.
"I am afraid that their acts will get worse in the coming days," said Abdallah Zekr, the president of the French Muslim Council (CFCM), which monitors Islamophobic attacks.
"Muslims are caught in a trap, between those who kill in the name of Islam and those who are using this to stigmatise Muslims," he said.
The attacks, including the hostage siege at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris condemned as an “appalling anti-Semitic act” by President François Hollande, could further fan flames of tension between France’s Jewish and Muslim communities.
Relations between the two groups were already strained following a series of recent inflammatory events, including the killing of four people at a Jewish school in 2012 by Mohamed Merah and last year’s often violent protests against Israel’s war on Gaza.
Numerous Muslim religious leaders in France have widely condemned this week’s terrorist attacks, while underlining the difference between extremists and ordinary Muslims.
"The people who carried out that attack in the name of Islam are not Muslims... The Prophet did not advocate violence against non-Muslims," Abdel Qader Achour, of the conservative Omar Ibn Al Khattab mosque not far from Charlie Hebdo's offices, insisted.
Dalil Boubakeur, rector at Paris Grand Mosque denounced the “odious crimes committed by the terrorists, whose criminal action endangers our willingness to live together".
He also appealed to "all the Muslims of France" to take part in demonstrations planned for Sunday to pay homage to the victims of this week’s attacks, the bloodiest in France in more than half a century.
‘A man of commitment’
Merabet, meanwhile, has been invoked by some as a symbol of religious tolerance and unity. The phrase “Je Suis Ahmed” – I Am Ahmed – has appeared on social media, echoing the campaign of support for Charlie Hebdo using the slogan “Je Suis Charlie”.
Some messages drew attention to what some Muslims had considered offensive in what was published by Charlie Hebdo, such as cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
Lebanese writer Dyab Abou Jahjah tweeted: “I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. #JesuisAhmed.” His tweet has been reposted more than 25,000 times.
Merabet also drew attention at the United Nations.
“He himself was a Muslim,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters. “This is yet another reminder of what we are facing together. It should never be seen as a war of religion, for religion, or on religion. It is an assault on our common humanity, designed to terrify and incite.”
On Saturday, Malek Merabet paid a moving tribute to his brother. "Ahmed, a man of commitment," he said, before breaking down in tears.
After a short moment, he continued: "(He) had the will to watch over his mum and his loved-ones since the death of his father 20 years ago.
He also chided media for broadcasting the video of his brother’s death.
The footage shows what appears to be a wounded Merabet on the pavement raising a hand as though appealing for mercy before he was fatally shot in the head.
"How dare you take this video and broadcast it? I heard his voice, I recognised him, I saw him being killed and I continue to hear him every day."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)