President Emmanuel Macron said he could understand whether Muslims were shocked by the cartoons of Prophet Mohammed, as French authorities on Saturday sought to determine whether a young Tunisian suspected of killing three people in a knife rampage in a Nice church had outside help.
France is angry after the reissue of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons in early September by the weekly Charlie Hebdo, which was followed by an attack in front of its former offices, the beheading of a teacher and now the bombing in Nice .
Macron sparked protests across the Muslim world after the murder earlier this month of teacher Samuel Paty – who had shown his class a caricature of Mohammed – by claiming that France would never give up its right to cartoon.
But in an apparent attempt to reach out to Muslims, Macron gave a lengthy interview exposing his vision to Qatar-based television station Al-Jazeera, seeking to set a softer tone.
“I can understand that people can be shocked by the cartoons but I will never accept that the violence can be justified,” he said.
“I consider it our duty to protect our freedoms and rights,” he added in an excerpt from the interview which will be broadcast from 4:00 pm GMT.
‘Too early to say’
France is still in shock from the latest attack in Nice, which Macron has already described as “Islamist” terror.
Brahim Issaoui, 21, only arrived in Europe from Tunisia last month and, according to prosecutors, killed the sacristan, a Brazilian and a Frenchwoman in the attack on Notre Dame Basilica on Thursday morning.
The attacker slaughtered Nadine Devillers, 60, and the sacristan Vincent Loques, 55. A Brazilian mother, Simone Barreto Silva, stabbed several times, took refuge in a nearby restaurant but died there from her injuries.
Issaoui has been shot and killed by the police on several occasions and is currently in serious condition in hospital. Investigators were unable to question him and his precise motivations remain unclear.
“It is still too early to say if there were other accomplices, what were his motivations to come to France and when this idea took root in him,” said a source close to the investigation who asked not to be named.
Investigators believe that Issaoui arrived illegally in Europe on the Italian Mediterranean island of Lampedusa on September 20. He then arrived at the Italian port of Bari on October 9 before coming to Nice a day or two before the attack.
French police are currently holding three people for questioning as part of the investigation, which focuses on two phones found on the suspect after the attack.
A first man, 47, was arrested Thursday evening after he was seen next to the attacker on surveillance footage the day before the attack.
The second individual, suspected of having contacted Issaoui the day before the attack, was detained on Friday.
Police said on Saturday that a third man, 33, was arrested after being present during the search of the second suspect’s home.
Global threat for France
The attack came with France still reeling from the beheading of Professor Paty on October 16 by a suspected Islamist radical from the Russian region of Chechnya.
The teacher had shown a class a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad following the controversy over the reprint by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo of the cartoons to mark the start of the trial of suspects over the massacre of his staff in January 2015.
Even before this attack, Macron had promised a tough new campaign against Islamist radicalism that had sparked controversy and condemnation from Muslims around the world.
Protests erupted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mali, Mauritania and Lebanon on Friday, the latest in a series of mass rallies denouncing France.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Saturday “strongly condemned” Macron’s defense of the right to publish such cartoons.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that French citizens face a security risk “wherever they are” as a result of the attack, saying alerts have been sent to all nationals French abroad.
In Issaoui’s hometown of Sfax in central Tunisia, his family told AFP they found it hard to believe he carried out the attack, but relatives said he had turned to religion and had isolated himself for the past two years.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by GalacticGaming staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)