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France: The Time of the Killers

5 minute read

The slaughter went on day after day in Algeria. At Oran, Europeans machine-gunned a grocery, killing three Moslems; retaliating, Moslems ambushed a car, killing four Europeans. In Bōne, Europeans placed flowers at the spot where a 16-year-old boy had been killed while putting up S.A.O. posters. As the week’s toll climbed from 20 to 30 to 40, the authorities advanced the curfew from 9 o’clock to 7, rushed police and troop reinforcements to Algiers. French police claimed to have arrested 106 European “extremists,” including five “killers.” A police raid on a villa in an Algiers suburb uncovered the secret headquarters of Jean-Jacques Susini, 28, propaganda chief of ex-General Raoul Salan’s Secret Army Organization. Susini escaped, but police seized 20,000 copies of clandestine S.A.O. newspapers and incriminating lists of names, including those of 50 S.A.O. agents in France.

In Paris, the S.A.O. struck a deadly retaliatory blow by exploding a 22-lb. plastic bomb in an inner courtyard of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, killing a mail clerk and wounding ten bystanders. During a single day, S.A.O. bombs were detonated at the homes of a distinguished cross section of Paris intellectuals, including TV Commentator Michel Droit, Gaullist Senator Louis Vigier, and Hubert Beuve-Méry, owner of Le Monde. With scathing contempt, Beuve-Méry accused the S.A.O. of setting off its bombs at a time “when the men supposed to be the targets are not usually at home but when their wives and children are.” In an editorial, he added savagely: “If you believe, gentlemen, that my existence is so harmful, then why strike in such an underhand fashion? My timetable is well known, my habits unchanged, no guards dog my footsteps. The assignment is therefore easy enough, and, as you know, immunity is more or less assured.”

Tired Cops. Beuve-Méry’s hint of S.A.O. immunity was made explicit last week at Nimes, where a plastiqueur was to go on trial. Three members of the jury panel said they would serve only “under constraint”—reportedly they had received threatening S.A.O. letters.The judge fined them $10 each and postponed the trial. In Paris, the Societé Parisienne de Surveillance, largest of France’s private detective agencies, was turning away business, told a prospective client who had been frightened by an S.A.O. threat: “We are up to our eyes in work. We may be able to provide you with a bodyguard in a few weeks’ time, but even that is doubtful.” The 20,000 men of the Paris police work equally hard, although they have been accused of sympathizing with Salan. There is undoubtedly some S.A.O. infiltration, but the police have recently rounded up enough terrorists to refute the charge. “I haven’t had a day off for the last three months,” complained a top cop. “As for the men, they’re willing enough, but they’re tired out.”

One piece of competent police work gave Frenchmen an unpleasant shock—the arrest of two youths accused of setting off plastic bombs. The pair, one 18, the other 19, proved to be students who had already passed the preliminary exam to St.-Cyr, France’s West Point, and were taking a two-year science program at the top-rated Lycée St. Louis. The discovery of an S.A.O. cell among the Cyrards (those preparing for St.-Cyr) sent Author Jean Cau, a 1961 Goncourt prizewinner, inquiring into the mentality of teen-agers in French lycées.

Crape at Half-Mast. Most students, Cau discovered, like most Frenchmen, were too busy to be interested in politics. But most of those preparing for St.-Cyr and for the naval academy in Brest are rabid S.A.O. sympathizers. To mourn the arrest of their two fellow students, the Cyrards ostentatiously wear black ties and fly crape at half-mast in their separate mess halls. In their opinion, reports Cau in L’Express, the tendency toward the S.A.O. “is growing everywhere, in solidity, in numbers and in political cohesion.” The Cyrards did not approve of Algerian ratonnades (lynchings of Moslems), but “we understand them.” France, say the students, must sooner or later decide whether to back the S.A.O. or the Communists: “That’s where our strength lies. Between the two, the majority will choose the S.A.O.”

More mature observers were still convinced that in France the S.A.O. is a grim nuisance but no real threat to the government. But the De Gaulle regime was taking it more seriously than before. De Gaulle’s Premier Michel Debré—who used to incline toward Algérie Française— last week made a nationwide TV broadcast to declare a “real mobilization of the police and the forces of order” to deal with the S.A.O. in France. Promising more detentions and questionings, Debré reported that the police had a list of 3,000 to 3,500 names of suspects who will be investigated. He added: “Serious blows have been carried out against the fomenters of anarchy. In the days to come, even more serious blows will be carried out against them.” The majority of Frenchmen last week could only hope Debré was right.

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