Toulouse terror reshaping the French election

By Anshel Pfeffer, April 4, 2012
The headline-dominating debate about terror has boosted Sarkozy

The headline-dominating debate about terror has boosted Sarkozy

Last month's attacks in which a jihadist shot four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse have changed the focus and, quite possibly, the outcome of the French presidential election.

Mohamed Merah, who also shot three soldiers in a separate attack and was killed following a 32-hour siege, had only one alleged collaborator - his brother.

However, Merah's campaign of terror has allowed President Nicolas Sarkozy to shift voters' attention to the threat of Islamist terror and away from France's economic troubles ahead of the presidential elections.

Last week, police arrested 19 Islamists who they now believe were planning to kidnap a Jewish judge in Lyon. While the arrests did not have any direct connection to the Merah attacks, they allowed Mr Sarkozy to continue emphasising security issues. On the day of the arrests he gave interviews stressing "our duty to guarantee the security of the French people".

While his main rivals for the presidency are not opposed to tough measures against terror, the President's control of the state security apparatus allows him a near monopoly of the airwaves during any security-related development and has denied other parties time to attack Mr Sarkozy's on issues such as the poor state of economy.

The issue of where Merah would be buried after the attack and the government's ban on radical Islamic preachers from entering France this month have all dominated the headlines.

Just three weeks ago, most polls had Mr Sarkozy trailing his main rival, the Socialist Francois Hollande, in the first round and losing to him in run-off by a double-digit margin. Now it is Mr Sarkozy who is projected to win the first round while Mr Hollande's lead in the run-off is rapidly shrinking.

Last updated: 5:31pm, April 4 2012