President Francois Hollande assured Muslims in France and abroad on Thursday that his country respected them and their religion but would not compromise its commitment to freedom and democracy.
Speaking a week after Islamist militant violence that killed 17 people in Paris, he told a meeting at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris that Muslims were “the first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance”.
The French military’s cyberdefence specialist meanwhile reported a surge of hacking against some 19,000 French websites in the past four days, with Islamist messages appearing on some and denials of service blocking others.
The Interior Ministry said it would grant French citizenship to Malian immigrant Lassana Bathily who was hailed as a hero after he concealed shoppers at a kosher grocery last Friday to save them from an Islamist gunman who killed four hostages before police shot him dead.
Hollande’s speech struck a balance between France’s commitment to protect its five-million-strong Muslim minority and to defend free speech even if Muslims find it offensive.
French Muslims have reported dozens of attacks on mosques since Islamist gunmen targeted satirical journal Charlie Hebdo last week. Authorities in several Middle East countries have denounced the newspaper’s decision to print more cartoons of the Prophet in its latest edition on Wednesday.
“Islam is compatible with democracy and we should refuse any confusion (about this),” Hollande said at the Institute, where “We are all Charlie” was written in French and Arabic on the building’s facade. Hollande also addressed the Arab world: “France is a friend, but it is a country that has rules, principles and values. One of them is not negotiable — freedom and democracy.”
Cyberdefence expert Vice Admiral Arnaud Coustilliere told journalists that “Islamist hackers” were behind the unprecedented wave of computer attacks on French websites.
“This is the response to last Sunday’s march,” he said, referring to a mass protest march led by Hollande and over 40 world leaders in response to the Islamist attacks. The hackers ranged “from shocked believers to hardened terrorists” and used simple methods.
Freshly printed copies of Charlie Hebdo’s “survivors’ edition” quickly sold out on Thursday morning, as they did on Wednesday when it first hit the newsstands.
In Belgium, prosecutors said they were investigating whether an arms dealer there had provided an Islamist gunman bullets used to kill kosher grocery hostages.