How Terror Saved Sarko

Article excerpt

Byline: Niall Ferguson

A brutal attack turns a French election.

Has Mohamed Merah saved Nicolas Sarkozy? It is, of course, a tasteless question. The cold-blooded killings of three French paratroopers were vile enough; but what Merah did at Toulouse's Ozar Hatorah Jewish school-where he murdered Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two young sons Gabriel and Arieh, and a seven-year-old pupil named Myriam Monsonego-surely lies beyond the realm of political calculation.

I cannot bear to picture in my mind how he chased that defenseless little girl, grabbed her by the hair, switched weapons when his pistol jammed, and then shot her in the head. That he filmed this act of savagery turns my stomach.

Yet after the horror we must consider the consequences. For the possibility cannot be ignored that a killing spree by an Islamist terrorist may decide the outcome of the French presidential election.

Merah's vile crimes have reminded French voters just how vulnerable they are to the jihadist threat. In recent years, their security forces have done a good job of foiling terrorist plots like the 2000 plan to blow up Strasbourg Cathedral and the 2001 attempt to destroy the U.S. embassy in Paris. The last successful attacks on French soil were back in 1995.

Now Merah has confirmed what many have long feared: that in France,just as in the rest of Europe, Muslim immigrant communities have been successfully penetrated by extremist groups like Jund al-Khilafah, the al Qaeda-affiliated group that claimed responsibility for his attacks.

The French Nightmare: Merah was born and raised in France. He seems to have taken the familiar route from educational under-achievement to petty crime, radicalization in jail, and recruitment by terrorists. Two years ago he was captured in Afghanistan and handed over to the French authorities. Yet he was able to return to northwest Pakistan in 2011. Incongruously, in the weeks before the attacks, he was seen in a nightclub and even took a skiing trip to Switzerland. It was in Geneva that he bought the GoPro camera with which he filmed his victims' last minutes.

In all of this, Merah personifies the French nightmare: outwardly Western, smirking, skiing, and surfing the Internet, yet signing his final tweet "Mohamed Merah-Forsane Alizza," an allusion to another jihadist group, the Knights of Glory. …