Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

France rallies around mother of murdered soldier after home daubed with graffiti lauding his killer

Latifa Ibn Ziaten woke up to messages of support for Al Qaeda terrorist Mohamed Merah

Latifa Ibn Ziaten shows a photograph of her son killed by Mohamed Merah, to France's President Francois Hollande. AFP
Latifa Ibn Ziaten shows a photograph of her son killed by Mohamed Merah, to France's President Francois Hollande. AFP

France’s president Emmanuel Macron has led a wave of support for the mother of a French Muslim soldier, murdered by a self-styled Al Qaeda extremist Mohamed Merah, after her home was daubed with graffiti insulting her and acclaiming her son’s killer.

Latifa Ibn Ziaten, who launched Imad, a foundation for youth and peace named after her son, awoke on Monday morning to find slogans scrawled on external walls of her home in the northern French city of Rouen.

Mrs Ziaten, 61, who has been received at the presidential Elysee Palace in honour of her charitable work, said she was shocked by the messages and their threatening tone.

“Once more I am treated as a target,” she wrote on Twitter, after her tweets of the graffiti went viral. “I have lodged a formal complaint. I hope those responsible are found and punished for their heinous act.”

In 2016, Mrs Ziaten was threatened in a street of the southern town of Carcassonne by Radouane Lakdim, who last year murdered four people, including a gendarme who volunteered to take a hostage’s place at a supermarket in nearby Trebes.

Among a stream of messages of sympathy, Mr Macron tweeted: “Dear Latifa, you have just suffered a new wound. The perpetrators of these odious acts will be punished.

“But they have already lost. For they cannot cope with the loving struggle of a mother who has already survived the worst. We are by your side in millions.”

The graffiti called Mrs Ziaten a “dirty Jew” – in fact she is a Muslim, born in Morocco but a resident of France since her teens – andsaid that she would “soon be dead”. One message said “we’ll have your skin”, another proclaimed: ”Vive Merah”.

By Tuesday afternoon, no one had been arrested in connection with the incident. One of Mrs Ziaten’s associates said it was not yet clear whether the graffiti was the work of vandals or “more sinister”.

Imad Ziaten, the second of five children and a staff sergeant in France's 1st parachute logistics regiment, was the first of seven people killed by Merah in the southwestern French cities of Toulouse and Montauban in 2012.

Two other soldiers were also murdered, as were three Jewish children and the father of two of them at the entrance to a Jewish school in Toulouse.

Sgt Ziaten, 30, was shot in the head outside a gym in Toulouse after keeping an appointment with Merah, who had pretended to be interested in buying his motorcycle.

When cornered by police, Merah, 23, a petty criminal born in France to Algerian parents, claimed to belong to Al Qaeda. He refused to surrender and was shot dead after a three-day police siege at his flat in Toulouse.

Mrs Ziaten created her foundation with the aim of stopping other young French Muslims turning to extremism. She has travelled across France to speak to young people and convey a message of conciliation.

Wanting to know where her son’s killer had grown up, she travelled from Normandy to Toulouse and confronted young residents of his housing estate who hailed Merah as "a martyr, a hero of Islam".

When she explained who she was, she said later, “they changed immediately and kept saying 'sorry, madame'". In exchanges lasting 45 minutes, she told them her son’s killer was "not an example, but a murderer who did not merit his first name [Mohamed]".

Mrs Ziaten told The National after that visit that France would see "another Mohamed Merah" unless it made a greater effort to reach out to disaffected young people of Maghrebin origin. The subsequent succession of attacks in Paris, Nice and other cities and towns has done nothing to change her view.

But she told French radio and television that the graffiti would not halt her efforts. "I'm sad, but I will not let go, that's for sure. I've endured worse than this. It’s shocking and upsetting, but I will not stop.”

Merah came from an intensely radicalised family. His elder brother, Abdelkader, was found by a French appeal court in April to have been his accomplice and jailed for 30 years. But another brother, Abdelghani, marched more than 1,000 kilometres through France in 2017 in a personal crusade against extremism.

Updated: June 12, 2019 04:54 PM

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