Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the CFCM, an umbrella group for French Muslims, said what the suspect has done “is the very negation of … Islam,” on the France-2 TV network.
The powerful fundamentalist Muslim organization UOIF asked all citizens “not to succumb to the panic of stigmatizing Muslims, which feeds Islamophobia.”
In the case of Le Pen, it may already be too late.
“We have underestimated, I think, the rise of radical Islam in our country,” Le Pen said. “We didn’t want to see it, out of weakness or for electoral reasons, that recruiting is going on in our neighborhoods by political-religious groups.”
Le Pen, who called national attention to the numbers of Muslims who pray in Paris streets for lack of space in prayer rooms, was among six presidential candidates present at Wednesday’s solemn funeral services for three dead paratroopers in the city of Montauban, near Toulouse. Merah had claimed responsibility for those attacks.
Le Pen had stayed away from mourning prayers after Monday’s killing of the Jewish rabbi and the children — when investigators focused their search on neo-Nazis and extreme rightists. Le Pen’s National Front has long been seen as a vehicle to spread anti-Semitism.
Hollande said the fight against terrorism is “the combat of the entire nation,” above all else.
Centrist presidential candidate Francois Bayrou said the slayings around Toulouse pose the question of “the state of French society, where there are explosive germs” and the “risk of importing conflicts” onto French soil.
Sarkozy, speaking as president at Wednesday’s funeral ceremony for the paratroopers, vowed that terrorism “won’t manage to fracture our national community.”
However, Sarkozy has followed the lead of Le Pen in the past, allowing her to set the agenda so he can take up her themes and go after her far-right followers.
A young man in Toulouse who slightly knew the suspect said he was shocked and afraid.
“This person doesn’t represent me,” said Mehdi Nedder, 31. “What worries me is what society will say tomorrow in the bakery shops, at the butcher’s or at the post office.”
• Johanna Decorse in Toulouse and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.
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