France to Go For Tougher Hate Speech Laws after MurdersWorld | March 23, 2012, Friday // 17:17| views
Hundreds of people participate in a minute of silence to pay tribute to the victims of the Toulouse school and three French soldiers, at the Capitol square in Toulouse, France, 23 March 2012. EPA/BGNES
France will pass tougher laws on hate speech after a series of killings in the south of the country apparently motivated by Muslim extremism, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has announced.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people attended a rally in Toulouse, where the self-confessed killer was shot dead by a police sniper after a 32-hour stand-off, to show unity and pay tribute to his seven victims.
Fillon told television station RTL, as cited by DPA, that if all political parties agreed, it could be possible to pass a law against hate preachers before the presidential election on April 22.
A draft law was to be presented to the cabinet in the coming two weeks, he said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy had previously said he wanted to punish those who spread hate on the internet and those who visited such websites. People indoctrinated abroad should also be punished, he said, though critics voiced concerns about the practicability of such laws.
Fillon also defended the role of the security services in tracking 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, who is suspected of having shot dead three soldiers of North African and West Indian origin and a teacher and three children at a Jewish school.
"He was questioned, kept under surveillance and bugged," said Fillon. "He was a man who led a normal life."
It was also difficult to justify monitoring for 24 hours a day someone who hadn't committed a crime in a country governed by the rule of law, he said.
"The fact of belonging to a Salafist organization is not a crime in itself. We can't equate religious fundamentalism with terrorism," he said.
Merah, a French citizen of Algerian descent, had been known to French intelligence services since making two trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2010 and 2011, where he allegedly attended terrorist training camps.
During his stand-off with police he claimed to have links to al-Qaeda, though authorities said they had not yet found any proof of this.
According to Interior Minister Claude Gueant, Merah had last been questioned by security services last year.
"With regard to his travels he was on a list in France," said Fillon. If he had tried to buy airline tickets, the domestic intelligence service would have been warned, he said. Merah had also been on a US no-fly list.
His mother, brother and sister-in law are to remain in police custody over suspected links to Muslim extremists.
Sources close to the investigation said Merah's brother in particular is thought to have had ties to religious extremists. The 29-year old has denied any knowledge of the crimes.