Terror attack on factory exposes political divisions in France
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While some French leaders called for unity in the wake of Friday’s terrorist attack on a US-owned gas plant near the southeastern city of Lyon, others took the opportunity to criticise the government over national security.
As the country reels from what is the second terrorist attack on its soil in less than six months, many of France’s leaders called for national unity as well as action.
The attack on the US Air Products factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, around 36 kilometres southeast of Lyon, comes after 17 people were killed in attacks on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery store in Paris in January.
President François Hollande said on Friday that all possible measures would be taken to avoid future attacks, while warning against divisions.
“We all remember what has happened in our country, and not just in our country. So there is plenty of emotion. But emotion cannot be the only response - that must be action, prevention and dissuasion,” he said, speaking from a European Union summit in Brussels. “It is thus necessary to wear [our] values and never succumb to fear, to not create unnecessary divisions or suspicions that would be intolerable, and to rise to every situation.”
Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem echoed Hollande’s solemn words, while expressing her condolences to the victim’s loved ones.
“Confronted by terrorism, now more than ever, let’s stay untied and mobilised. In these moments, I am thinking of the victim’s family and friends” she tweeted.
Claude Bartolone, president of the Socialist Party at the National Assembly, also called or the country to come together.
“National unity after a new attack committed this morning in the Isère [region]. Combat barbarism and defend our Republic,” he said on Twitter.
Not everyone, however, put on a unified front in the wake of the attack. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is head of the conservative Les Républicains party (formerly the UMP), took the opportunity to criticise the government for being lax.
“For the last several weeks, we’ve been calling on the government to take every indispensable measure to ensure our compatriots' protection,” he said, adding that he hoped the government would “learn all the imperative lessons from this new attack”.
Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front (FN) party, called for “strong and firm” steps to be taken immediately to “defeat Islamism”.
The FN’s vice president, Florian Philippot, also had harsh words or the government.
“Stop this policy of mantras, stop this policy of emotions… Nothing has been done since January. What’s lacking is determination and action. We must defeat the fundamentalist beast,” he said.
But Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve brushed off the criticism.
“For months, the government has taken every measure to ensure the safety of the French,” he said.
The attack took place on Friday when a suspect rammed a delivery van into gas containers at the factory. Police said that a decapitated head was also found at the site, but it is unclear how the victim was beheaded and where.
Cazeneuve said that the attacker, who he named as Yassin Sahli, had since been arrested. A number of suspected accomplices, including Sahli’s wife, have also been taken into police custody.