PARIS, Jan 19 (AFP) – French investigators were Monday seeking to determine who was behind the bombing of a car belonging to France’s only Muslim prefect – or departmental governor – with the far-right and Muslim extremists the primary lines of enquiry.
A device was planted overnight Saturday in a white Saab parked near the home of Aissa Dermouche, 57, the Algerian-born director of a business school in the western city of Nantes who takes up his post as prefect on the Jura department near the Swiss border next month.
The small bomb went off early Sunday, wrecking the car but causing no injuries. Police were examining the remains if the device to see if it contained a timer – which would suggest that Dermouche himself rather than just his vehicle was the intended target.
The blast came at a time of heightened tensions over France’s five million strong Muslim community, with an estimated 20,000 taking part in nationwide demonstrations Saturday against government plans to ban the Islamic headscarf and other “conspicuous” religious symbols from school.
Investigators said the attackers seemed to have followed Dermouche’s car as he returned from a football match on Saturady afternoon, but they had no clues as to who was responsible. “All leads are being followed,” said deputy prosecutor Jacques Bruneau.
The principle suspects were far-right extremists angered by the public honouring of a North African immigrant, or Islamist radicals who saw him as a dangerous symbol of assimilation into French society. However other theories could not be ruled out, police said.
Dermouche, who has run the world-renowned Audencia school of management since 1989, came to national attention last week when he was appointed one of France’s first ever Muslim prefects in the midst of a heated debate over positive discrimination.
The idea of promoting Muslims to encourage their integration is opposed by most of the political establishment – including President Jacques Chirac – on the grounds that it is against the founding principles of the republic.
However the powerful Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy supports the idea, telling L’Express magazine Monday that “it is imperative our elites become more diverse and resemble more the multiplicity of France.”
Chirac supported Dermouche’s nomination, saying it was justified by “a fundamental republican principle – that top civil service appointments are based on the recognition of merit, whatever the origins of the persons involved.”
France has around 200 prefects and 500 sub-prefects, nearly all of whom have qualified from the elite National Administration School (ENA). Created in 1800 by Napoleon, their task is to represent the state in the country’s 100 departments.
Dermouche, who came to France at the age of 18, is the first prefect from the generation that immigrated from North Africa in the 1960s. The handful of previous Muslim prefects started their civil service careers before 1962 when Algeria was officially part of France.
A father of four and a keen golfer, he made a career first as a business consultant and then professor at the Audencia school which he has run since 1989. A knight of the Legion of Honour, he is held up as an exemplary figure for immigrants from France’s former North African colonies.
France’s centre-right government includes two Muslims: Hamlaoui Mekachera, junior minister for veterans’ affairs, and Tokia Saifi, junior minister for durable development.
Subject: France news