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Mayor of Paris Stabbed During All-Night Party

Europe: The Muslim suspect reportedly tells police that his dislike of gays and politicians led him to attack the official, who is recovering.

October 07, 2002|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — An assailant stabbed Mayor Bertrand Delanoe early Sunday during an all-night party for the public at City Hall, leaving the mayor hospitalized but in good condition with a wound in the abdomen.

The suspect, a devout Muslim, told interrogators that his dislike of gays and politicians caused him to attack the mayor, who is openly gay, authorities said.

"He explained his strong religious views made him reject homosexuality as unnatural," said Jean-Claude Dauvel of the Paris prosecutor's office, according to media reports.

Authorities quickly subdued the suspect. He was identified as Azzedine Berkane, 39, a Frenchman of Algerian descent with a criminal record and psychiatric problems.

The incident occurred about 2:30 a.m. as Delanoe was greeting party-goers in a ballroom in the elegant City Hall during the festival dubbed Nuit Blanche, or "Sleepless Night." City Hall had been opened to the public and decorated as a 1930s nightclub as part of the all-night extravaganza, which drew tens of thousands of Parisians to art exhibits, concerts, swimming pools and landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

The incident was the third serious attack on a French politician this year. In March, a mentally disturbed sometime environmentalist gunned down eight City Council members at City Hall in suburban Nanterre. In July, a neo-Nazi would-be assassin fired a shot at President Jacques Chirac during a Bastille Day parade.

"Already on a number of occasions, we have seen how many elected officials have been exposed to numerous aggressions," said Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin on Sunday. He said France must "reinforce [its] overall security measures so that French society can be a peaceful society."

Authorities said they had not detected any connections between Islamic extremist groups and the mayor's assailant. Berkane is reportedly a computer technician who lives with his parents in a tough housing project in suburban Bobigny north of Paris. He has an arrest record and has been treated at least once for psychiatric troubles, authorities said. Nonetheless, the fact that he is a self-described devout Muslim added another troubling element to the latest act of headline-making violence in France.

The French government has become increasingly concerned about rising crime, Islamic fundamentalism, alienated immigrant communities and the potentially explosive convergence of those problems. As the repercussions of the Sept. 11 attacks have radicalized Islamic extremists in Europe, law enforcement agencies here and in neighboring nations worry not just about organized terrorism but about the threat of more ambiguous, ideologically tinged acts that some investigators call "individual jihad."

Whether political or not, street violence is a top priority of Chirac's new center-right government. On Sunday, the president called the attack on Delanoe "senseless." Politicians across the spectrum visited the mayor in the hospital, where he was expected to spend a week recovering from surgery.

Delanoe, a 52-year-old Socialist elected last year, is the French capital's first leftist mayor since 1871. He disclosed his homosexuality in 1999, but the French took the news in stride and neither the mayor nor other politicians have made it an issue.

Governing in a coalition with the Greens party, Delanoe has a low-key, populist style. He sometimes takes the subway to work.

Security was light at City Hall on Saturday night, witnesses said. Television footage from before the attack showed Delanoe walking through the festivities without any bodyguards visible around him.

The attacker, who stabbed Delanoe without a word, told investigators that he had not planned the assault but acted spontaneously when he saw the mayor approach, authorities said.

As Delanoe lay wounded in a knot of horrified officials, the mayor insisted that the party had to go on, according to Deputy Mayor Christophe Girard.

"He told me the 'Nuit Blanche' should continue unchanged and not to dramatize what had happened," Girard told journalists.

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