PARIS - Since they were revealed earlier this week, both the identity and motives of the presumed perpetrator of the Montauban and Toulouse killings have shaken France's Muslim and North African communities. Their main fears? "Exploitation" and "stigmatization," after police reported that Mohammed Merah revealed Islamic jihad motives behind his killing of three French soldiers and a teacher and three students at a Jewish school in southern France.

Since Wednesday, representatives of many Muslim institutions have spoken out against the risks of what the French call an "amalgame," when people jump to conclusions and judge a whole group by the actions of just one member. "Muslims, 99% of whom are pacifists…, and these tiny groups on the fringe of society who are determined to commit atrocities" must not be confused, declared Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grande Mosquée de Paris, the third largest mosque in Europe.

Representatives of all Jewish and Muslim institutions were invited to the Elysee Palace on Wednesday March 21 where the president of the French Council for the Muslim Faith Mohammed Moussaoui stated that "this individual – Mr Merah – can under no circumstances justify his acts by the Muslim faith."

Muslim organizations have also offered their views on the situation. The Action Group Against Islamophobia fears that the current presidential campaign may "sink under the hysteria of islamophobia." On Oumma.com, one of the main information portals about the Muslim community, there is an editorial entitled "Non à la terreur, non à l'Islamalgame," melding the words Islam and amalgame. The author argues that Mohammed Merah "only represents himself and a handful of dangerous fanatics."

Some people, such as the Imam of Bordeaux Tarek Obrou believe, however, that Merah's violent tendencies could have been anticipated. "We know all of the violent profiles in our mosques: the faithful who border on psychotic, delinquents who turn to extreme religious fanaticism, those who come from broken homes, who separate themselves from society, who shut themselves off from their religious community," he says. "Unfortunately, the discourse of some religious people places Muslims in a position of conflict relative to the rest of society."

Anouar Kbibech, president of the Group of French Muslims, believes that we must "remember that, although one young person chooses terrorism, thousands choose citizenship." However, "community leaders must take on the role of preventing and supervising certain practices," he stresses.

North African connection

As well as affecting religious communities, the revelation of Merah's identity has touched a large part of France's well-established North African society. The editor of the multicultural magazine ‘Respect Mag' Marc Cheb Sun says that he has received a "flood" of letters. "They are both emotional and defensive at the same time," he explains.

Abdelkrim Branine, host of a popular call-in radio show on Beur FM in the evenings said, "When we found out Merah's name and his Algerian descent, we said ‘We're screwed!'"

A certain panic is spreading, says Mesbah Miloud, coordinator of several residences for migrant workers. "Lots of them fear that they will become targets. And yet, the residences don't have enough security measures, even though we've been asking for them for years," he says.

The President of the Association of Migrant Workers in France, Driss-El Kherchi, says there's also a sense of guilt amongst these communities. "We know that we shouldn't feel like this, that we don't share anything with this person, but we still fear that this will present an opportunity for some parties to come down hard on us."

Read more from Le Monde in French.

Photo - Kahala