French far right blamed for attack on Muslim official

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A bomb has destroyed a car belonging to a recently appointed French government official who was born in Algeria, in an apparent attempt to inflame racial and religious tensions in France.

Investigators suspect that either the white-supremacist far right or an extremist Muslim group planted the bomb that exploded yesterday under the bonnetof a Saab belonging to Aissa Dermouche. M. Dermouche, 57, was named as préfet of the eastern Jura region last week. He is the first immigrant and first Muslim for 40 years to reach the elite ranks of the préfets, uniformed civil servants who are responsible for law enforcement and the administration of national government in each region.

No one was injured in the explosion, which occurred in the early hours near M. Dermouche's home in a quiet residential part of Nantes, in western France, where he is the head of a prestigious business school.

François Fillon, the Social Affairs minister and a personal friend of M. Dermouche, said that the bombing was "the odious act" of someone who wished to "impede" racial and religious integration in France.

Jean-Marie Huet, the public prosecutor for Nantes, said: "There is no doubt that this concerns a criminal act. Tests have been carried out on the shell of the vehicle so we can conduct analyses to determine the nature of the explosive used."

The explosion occurred the day after 20,000 Muslim women took part in demonstrations in French cities against plans to ban the wearing of Muslim headscarves and other overt religious symbols in the country's state schools and offices.

M. Dermouche's appointment as préfet was intended to counter suggestions by radical Muslim organisations in France and some Arab countries that the proposed law demonstrates France is anti-Islam. His postingwas criticised last week by the veteran leader of the xenophobic National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as a step towards "positive discrimination" for immigrants.

Investigators were trying to establish last night whether the bombing was intended to kill M. Dermouche or whether the device was timed to explode - as it did - when the car was unoccupied. M. Dermouche's Saab was destroyed on the Avenue Camus in Nantes, 20m from his home on a neighbouring street. He had parked the car there on Saturday evening after returning home from a football match.

M. Dermouche, head of the Audencia business school in Nantes, which is one of the most prestigious commercial colleges in France, comes from the Kabyle Berber minority in Algeria. Although French-born citizens of the Muslim faith were appointed as préfets in the 1950s and 1960s, M. Dermouche is the first immigrant to have reached this rank.

Saturday's marches against the law banning headscarves in schools attracted fewer people than the organisers had predicted; about 10,000 in Paris and 20,000 across the country. The marchers were all women and almost all the stewards were men.

The marches had been organised by a radical Islamic organisation, the Parti Musulman de France, which has been accused of making anti-semitic statements in the past. More moderate Muslim organisations, including a women's group that opposes the wearing of headscarves, said the marchers were unrepresentative of followers of Islam.