PARIS (AFP) – France’s interior minister on Wed-nesday announced a wide-ranging probe into a series of blunders that saw three suspected extremists waltz out of a French airport after being transferred from Turkish custody.
Authorities were left red-faced after an an-nouncement they had arrested the three men at a Paris airport turned out to be false.
To make matters worse, it emerged the sus-pected French extremists had been put on a different plane entirely to the southern city of Marseille, where they were – to their apparent surprise – able to walk freely from the airport on Tuesday.
In another snag, passport control failed to flag the men as suspicious, as a security databank
was out of order at the time.
The government was however spared further blushes from the fiasco as the men handed themselves over to police on Wednesday – nearly a day later.
They were due to appear before an anti-terrorist judge.
“There was clearly a massive bungle but it was in large part due to… the absence of proper collaboration with Turkish authorities,” Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Info radio.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told journalists he had called for an administrative enquiry to “get to the bottom of what happened”.
He said he would also soon visit Turkey to avoid a repeat of the “malfunction”.
The trio included the 29-year-old brother-in-law of Toulouse extremist Mohamed Merah, who was shot dead by police after he murdered seven people, including three children, in a 2012 killing spree.
A 27-year-old previously convicted over terrorism-related charges and links to a extremist group, was also one of the three arrested in Turkey.
The interior ministry claimed that after the pilot of the Paris-bound flight refused to allow them on board the Turkish authorities put them on the flight to Marseille.
But it insisted that Paris did not become aware of the last-minute change of plan until after the men had landed on French soil.
One of the trio’s lawyers, Pierre Dunac, said the men were not questioned when they landed. “As incredible as it might seem, it’s true.”
The debacle came as France was juggling se-veral extremist threats: Hundreds of citizens leaving to fight in Iraq and Syria, a national taken hostage and threatened with execution in Algeria and Islamic State extremists calling for Muslims
to kill French citizens.
On Friday, France conducted its first air strikes in Iraq against IS.
“France is not afraid,” Cazeneuve insisted this week, vowing the country was fully prepared to deal with any threat on home soil. Critics of an already deeply unpopular government seized on the blunder, saying the extremists had “made us the laughing stock of the world”.
“So we can send planes to Iraq but we can’t control our own borders?” said Christian Estrosi, a former government minister with the conser-vative opposition UMP.