Christopher Dickey writes: You remember the scene at the end of the movie Casablanca, of course, when Claude Rains, playing the French police chief, wants to cover up his complicity in the crime just committed by his friend Humphrey Bogart. As more cops arrive on the scene Rains, completely at ease with his own cynicism, orders them to “round up the usual suspects.”
That is what the French government has been doing since the tragic, horrifying, and embarrassing murders of three French soldiers, a rabbi, and three Jewish children in and around Toulouse last month. But as it tries to obscure its past mistakes, it may well be complicating future investigations.
The latest arrests came in the early hours of Wednesday morning, when ten radical Islamists suspected of alleged terrorist ties or sympathies were picked up in just about every corner of the country, from Roubaix in the north to Marseille in the south. Five others were thrown out of France in recent days, and another 13 were charged with participation in a “terrorist enterprise.” Not one of those is alleged to have had any connection at all with Mohamed Merah, the 23-year-old Toulouse shooter.
“The government shows its firmness against radical Islam,” headlined the left-leaning daily Le Monde last night. “Sarkozy’s warning to Islamist associations in France,” proclaimed the front page of Le Figaro this morning. Earlier, Sarkozy vowed that people who visit jihadist Web sites would be liable to arrest. His blunt message: zero tolerance for radical Islam. And as the hard-fought presidential campaign against challengers on the right and left enters its final weeks before voting starts on April 22, that seems to be working. Ever since the Toulouse killings, Sarkozy has been climbing in the polls.
French Islamist arrests
Yet while these arrests and proclamations may be good politics—may even help to obscure the phenomenal intelligence failure that allowed the Toulouse shooter to carry out his nine-day killing spree in the first place—the headline-grabbing measures of today may weaken defenses against terrorist attacks in the future, and not only in France.