Policemen hunting for the terrorists who bombed Paris’ historic City Hall jailed 12 people of Middle Eastern origin Thursday, while bickering politicians accused one another of letting terrorism get out of hand.
The political mood was so tense that Denis Baudouin, spokesman for Premier Jacques Chirac, denied that there was disagreement among government ministers about how to deal with the terrorism.
Won’t Free Lebanese
Baudouin also denied what newspapers have been predicting all week, that the government might satisfy a terrorist demand and release Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, a Lebanese accused of killing an American military attache almost four years ago.
“The minister of justice does not have the power to release Abdallah even if he wants to,” Baudouin said, “and in any case the minister . . . does not want to.”
The French news agency, Agence France-Press, reported that police, as part of their investigation into Monday’s bombing of the post office in City Hall, had arrested 20 people throughout the country before dawn Thursday and kept 12 of them in custody.
The agency said the 12 were all of Middle East origin, including several Lebanese and one Tunisian.
The conservative Chirac government, which came to power last March promising that it would increase security by terrorizing the terrorists, was obviously intent on showing the public that it is acting forcefully to deal with the bombers.
Baudouin told reporters that Chirac and his security ministers have adopted a series of anti-terrorist measures in emergency meetings this week and will consider others. Baudouin said that Chirac will reveal a number of these measures next week but that others will remain secret.
Meanwhile, Socialists were infuriated by accusations from Chirac associates that Socialist laxity had encouraged the terrorism. Alain Peyrefitte, a former Cabinet member and editor of the conservative Paris newspaper Le Figaro, said that amnesties by the Socialists when they were in power in 1981 had created a climate that made France “a sanctuary for terrorism.”
Interior Minister Charles Pasqua blamed the Socialists for parliamentary delays that had held up enactment of the conservative government’s security laws. On top of this, Pasqua said, the previous Socialist government had reneged on a promise to release Abdallah in exchange for the release of a French hostage in Lebanon.
Angry Socialists tried to throw the charge of laxity back at the conservatives. The Socialists insisted that the previous conservative government of President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Premier Raymond Barre had a notorious record of releasing terrorists. As far as Abdallah was concerned, the Socialists said, the Socialist government reneged on its promise to release him only after evidence accumulated accusing him of terrorist acts.
Abdallah is one of three terrorists whose release has been demanded by an organization that calls itself the Committee of Solidarity with Arab and Middle Eastern Political Prisoners. The organization has taken responsibility for the latest bombing, which killed one person and injured 90, as well as for a series of Paris bombings earlier this year that killed two people and injured more than 60.
Turned Himself In
Abdallah is believed to be the head of a guerrilla group called the Lebanese Revolutionary Army Factions that took responsibility for the murder of U.S. military attache Charles Ray and Israeli diplomat Yacov Barsimantov almost four years ago.
Abdallah was not captured by French police, but turned himself in at a police station in Lyon two years ago, asking for protection from Israeli agents he said were intent on killing him.
Police then found weapons in his apartment that are believed to have been used to kill the American and the Israeli. Although charged with involvement in their murders, Abdallah has so far been found guilty only of illegal possession of weapons. He is serving a four-year sentence for that offense.
The American government protested what it regarded as a light sentence and is pressuring the French government not to release him but to bring him to trial again on the murder charges. Some French officials insist, however, that there is no evidence to convict him of those charges.
There has been a good deal of speculation all week that the Chirac government was considering the release of Abdallah on parole. But in a television interview Wednesday night, Finance Minister Edouard Balladur, who is regarded as a close associate of Chirac, said the government has no intention of releasing Abdallah.