NICE // The right wing mayor of a French Riviera Beach town where locals asked a burqini-wearing Australian to leave has defended their actions — calling her behaviour “indecent”.
Lionnel Luca said on Monday that Sydney native Zeynab Alshelh “could have asked herself whether the people in the area weren’t still reeling from the jihadist attack that killed 86 people” in nearby Nice in July.
“She could not just innocently come to our beaches with religious garb that is the sign of the fundamentalism that killed us,” he said, calling the 23-year-old’s actions “pretty indecent”.
Ms Alshelh told Australian television the beachgoers threatened to call the police unless she left the beach at Villeneuve-Loubet, even though a ban on the controversial full-bodied swimsuit had recently been overturned.
The burqini became a political hot potato over the summer as France gears up for a presidential election next spring.
Ms Alshelh, a medical student, said she had travelled to Europe to show solidarity with French Muslims by wearing a burqini on the beach. The Islamic swimsuit was invented by an Australian designer.
Footage broadcast on Sunday evening showed locals making disparaging gestures towards Ms Alshelh.
Nice and about 30 other French towns banned the burqini after the July terror attack in which a man ploughed his lorry into crowds gathered for Bastille Day fireworks in Nice.
In August, France’s highest court suspended the burqini bans, declaring the swimsuit’s prohibition an “illegal violation of fundamental freedoms”.
Separately, French police on Tuesday arrested eight associates of the extremist who killed 86 people when he ploughed his lorry into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, an investigation source said.
“They are associates of the perpetrator. We are carrying out checks and they are in custody,” the source said.
“They are all men, of French and Tunisian nationality.”
The men were arrested in Nice and in the neighbouring towns of Saint-Laurent-du-Var and Cagnes-Sur-Mer.
Police were also searching properties on Tuesday, the source said.
Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian, rammed a 19-tonne lorry through a crowd of more than 30,000 people gathered on the seafront Promenade des Anglais in Nice on July 14 before police shot him dead.
The ISIL extremist group claimed he was one of its followers.
Bouhlel was initially thought to have planned the attack alone but antiterror investigators later said he had received help from several people and had spent several months planning it.
Six people have already been charged over the attack.
* Agence France-Presse