Hostage beheading raises pressure on French Muslims

Experts say the beheading of Herve Gourdel will likely increase ‘anti-Muslim sentiments’ France

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The beheading of Frenchman Herve Gourdel by an Algerian group linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has raised concerns over possible increase in anti-Muslim sentiments in France.

The beheading will “intensify anti-Muslim sentiment” in France, which “has been rampant in recent years,” Yahia Zoubir, professor of international relations and director of research in geopolitics at EUROMED Management, told Al Arabiya News.

It will also lead to “more important anti-immigration sentiment,” Zoubir said, adding that this will benefit the far right, especially the National Front (FN).

The FN wants to cut immigration drastically and reduce the influence of Islam in France, where there are approximately 5 million Muslims.

Yanis Chabih, an Algerian-born resident in France, told Al Arabiya News: “French citizens must make a distinction between some brainwashed Algerians who decided to join ISIS, and those who are well integrated in French society and refuse to be identified with such organizations.”

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls relayed a similar message to parliament this week.

“France makes a clear distinction between Islam, which is France’s second religion... and Islamism, including its terrorist extension jihadism, which is nothing but a violent and perverted message that goes against the universal values of Islam,” Valls said.

France’s Muslim community was among the most vociferous in condemning the beheading, and called for united efforts to stop ISIS.

Muslim leaders called on their community to protest against Gourdel’s beheading at Paris’s Grand Mosque on Friday.

Fabrice Balanche, France-based director of Groupe de Recherches et d'Etudes sur la Méditerranée et le Moyen-Orient (Group of Research and Study on the Mediterranean and the Middle East) told Al Arabiya News that the beheading “won’t affect political ties between France and Algeria,” and that both countries are fighting terrorism.

“The Algerian army did its best to find the hostage without giving in to the hostage-takers’ blackmail,” Balanche said, adding that France’s lack of precautions toward its citizens abroad caused the incident.

This week, President Francois Hollande raised the threat level at 30 French embassies across the Middle East and Africa, and urged expatriates to be vigilant and closely follow security recommendations.

Hollande also vowed to keep combating ISIS and “intensify” support to Syrian opposition forces fighting the group.

Balanche said the president “won’t change his position regarding France’s intervention in Iraq and Syria after this incident. He’ll continue to hit ISIS, and will only reconsider France’s involvement in case of a terrorist attack on French soil.”

France is on high alert for the return of fighters who may commit acts of terrorism on home soil.

“French security forces increased their vigilance,” Zoubir said, “especially after three suspected militants easily passed through France’s border controls on their return from Syria this week.”

French authorities bungled an opportunity to arrest three suspected ISIS militants who had been deported from Turkey, as they were waiting at the wrong airport.

“ISIS will keep targeting France abroad and on its territory,” Zoubir said, adding that Gourdel is not the last French citizen to be abducted.

His beheading followed France’s rejection of ISIS’s 24-hour ultimatum to halt airstrikes in Iraq - part of a U.S.-led campaign against the group.

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