PARIS, France — French far-right presidential hopeful Eric Zemmour came under fire on Sunday for delivering a blistering attack against ex-president Francois Hollande’s migration policy during commemorations marking the November 2015 Paris attacks.
Zemmour, an ultra-nationalist TV pundit who has made no secret of his desire to run for president in April’s election, made the remarks during a visit Saturday night to the Bataclan theatre in Paris, where 90 concertgoers were massacred during a series of coordinated attacks across the French capital on November 13, 2015.
The attacks, which left 130 people dead in total, were carried out by a 10-man Islamic State (IS) cell, mostly French and Belgian nationals, some of whom had traveled to Syria to join IS and returned to France to carry out the attacks.
Addressing reporters outside the Bataclan, 63-year-old Zemmour, who is Jewish, accused France’s then Socialist president Hollande of “criminal” negligence for failing to detect those attackers who slipped into Europe among a huge influx of Syrian migrants.
“He knew there would be terrorists and did not protect the French and took the criminal decision to leave the borders open,” said Zemmour, who is polling strongly on an anti-Islam, anti-immigration platform, despite having yet to formally announce his candidacy.
The veteran former political journalist argued that even those attackers who had French nationality “would have been caught” if France, where jihadists had slaughtered a group of cartoonists 10 months earlier, had shut its borders.
Hollande, who was called to testify this week at the trial of 20 people charged over the bloodshed, including the sole surviving member of the IS cell behind the attacks, Salah Abdeslam, accused Zemmour of an “unsubstantiated, obscene and shameful” attack.
“It’s obscene to be in front of the Bataclan and to be talking about a war of civilization,” Hollande told a Jewish community radio station, Radio J, referring to Zemmour’s characterization of the attacks.
Survivors and relatives of the victims of the Paris attacks also denounced Zemmour for playing politics on the anniversary of the massacre.
Arthur Denouveaux, a survivor of the Bataclan attack who heads the Life for Paris victims association, accused Zemmour of acting like a “grave desecrator.”
“We are highly outraged by this political exploitation of terror victims,” he said in a statement shared on Twitter.
Zemmour is vying with National Rally leader Marine Le Pen for the leadership of France’s nationalist right.
Some polls show him overtaking her to become Macron’s top rival.
Others show Le Pen, 53, still the most likely to defeat candidates from the mainstream right and the left for a place in the second-round run-off against Macron — as she did in 2017.
All polls currently show 43-year-old Macron, who has yet to announce he is seeking re-election but is expected to do so, winning a second term.