Paris: Terror attacks by French Islamic extremists should force the country to look inward at its "ethnic apartheid," the prime minister said today as four men faced preliminary charges on suspicion of links to one of the gunmen.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls told journalists that fighting hatred, anti-Semitism and racism in the country is an urgent priority, notably in France's impoverished suburbs that house sizable immigrant communities.
Valls, a relatively conservative Socialist whose hard line on Islamic extremism has won many fans, says he wasn't making excuses for crime or terrorism, "but we also have to look at the reality of our country."
Three French gunmen born of immigrant parents carried out attacks from Jan. 7-9 in the Paris region, targeting the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, police and a kosher supermarket. Twenty people were killed in all, including the gunmen in police raids.
The Paris prosecutor's office said the four men in court today, the first to face charges in the Paris terror attacks, are suspected of providing logistical support to gunman Amedy Coulibaly.
Coulibaly shot a policewoman to death on the outskirts of Paris and then seized hostages inside a kosher supermarket, killing four before he was killed by police. It is not clear whether the suspects, all in their 20s, were involved in plotting the attacks or even aware of Coulibaly's plans.
The Paris prosecutor's office said five others arrested in the investigation were released without charge.
No one has been charged for direct involvement in the Jan. 7-9 terror attacks. Coulibaly claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group while the two brothers who attacked the Charlie Hebdo newspaper said they were backed by al-Qaida in Yemen.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio paid respects to the Paris terror victims today, meeting with the Paris mayor and visiting the kosher market and Charlie Hebdo's offices.
Valls said memories have dimmed of the three weeks of riots by disaffected youths in 2005 that shook France.
"And yet, the stigmas remain ... A territorial, social and ethnic apartheid that has imposed itself on our country," he said. "The social misery is compounded by the daily discriminations, because someone does not have the right name, the right color of skin, or because she is a woman."
In response to the 2005 riots, the French government spent hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) to improve conditions in its rundown suburbs, with little success.
Unemployment among young people in the housing projects is well above the national average and state buildings are often targeted for vandalism and arson