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Fundamentalist Threat Causes French to Fret

Fundamentalist Threat Causes French to Fret

AN overwhelming majority of French people believe that Muslim fundamentalism is a serious threat in France and must be confronted, according to an opinion poll published in Paris Tuesday.

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The SOFRES survey, in the daily Le Figaro, said that 78 percent of those questioned agreed with the statement that ''Muslim fundamentalism is a very serious threat in our country which must be fought.''

Only 16 percent said fundamentalism was ''not such a serious threat and all opinions must be tolerated.'' The remaining 6 percent had no strong views.

There are about 5 million Muslims in France, mostly of North African origin. Islam is the country's second religion after Roman Catholicism.

In the past year, France has cracked down on Muslim groups, which it alleges have ties with fundamentalists fighting authorities in the former French colony of Algeria.

The poll indicated that right-wing voters were the most worried by fundamentalism.

Le Figaro noted that Muslim fundamentalism had scarcely been mentioned by candidates in the current presidential campaign to succeed President Francois Mitterrand, although it is among French voters' major fears.

Last Christmas eve, four Muslim fundamentalists seized an Air France airliner in Algiers and called for the release of two leaders of the banned Islamic Salvation Front, and demanded to leave Algeria. The hijackers killed three hostages, and French Prime Minister Edouard Balladur intervened to convince Algiers to let the plane fly to France. French elite forces stormed the plane in Marseilles and rescued 169 passengers. But several people were killed in the attempt, including the hijackers.

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Algerian schools hit

ISLAMIC extremists have destroyed 100 schools in their three-year insurgency and damaged more than 700 others, Amar Sakhri, Algeria's education minister, said Monday.

The radical Armed Islamic Group, which is strongest in the Algiers region, has threatened teachers and students and demanded schools be shut down for failing to follow Islamic precepts. Authorities say 142 teachers were killed last year in attacks blamed on extremists trying to topple the Army-backed government.

An estimated 30,000 people have been killed in the ensuing violence, triggered when the Army canceled national elections in January 1992 that the Islamic Salvation Front appeared set to win. Mr. Sakhri said a total of 815 schools have been sabotaged.

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