“The questions were scandalous,” said Soliman Makouh, Zeyad Bagour’s lawyer.
Zeyad Bagour, who was born in France and works nights in a fast-food restaurant, said in an interview that he was asked whether he practiced his Islamic faith ardently, whether he was interested in Islamist terrorism and whether he had traveled to Afghanistan or similar countries for contacts with jihadist organizations. His only recent foreign travel was to Ibiza for a beach vacation, he said he replied.
The most troubling question from police, Makouh said, was put to the mother as well as the uncle: Did Bagour induce labor three years ago so Jihad would be born on Sept. 11? The answer from both was no.
After the police investigation, no terrorism-related charges were brought. But the prosecutor decided to charge Bagour and her brother with “apology for crime,” which under a 1981 French law carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $58,000 fine.
“Our society cannot tolerate extremist or equivalent attitudes,” Lagneau said at a news conference after the charges were lodged. “I am convinced that all those who have authority must act, denounce, show the greatest firmness. This, I believe, is our duty. Otherwise we would risk trivializing facts that are serious and recognized as such by the prosecutor.”
Zeyad Bagour, a bachelor who lives with his sister and two other siblings, said he had trouble understanding what the fuss was about. He bought the shirt without thinking of any political message, he said. The front already had the words “I am a bomb” printed on it, but he understood that as an expression roughly equivalent to “I am a real looker.” As for the back, he said, he just wanted to put down his nephew’s name and date of birth.
“I did it on a lark,” he recalled, apologizing for any alarm he may have raised. “It wasn’t even meant as a joke.”
‘No ambiguity possible’
For Lagneau, however, the T-shirt was more than a joke, even an ill-considered one; it was a deliberate call to violent jihad. He hired a lawyer and joined the criminal prosecution, making the city what is known in French law as a “civil party,” claiming to have suffered from an alleged crime.
“They knew very well what they were doing,” he said. “There is no ambiguity possible.”
At a four-hour trial March 6, Deputy Prosecutor Olivier Couvignou also portrayed the T-shirt as a deliberate political message. “There is nothing innocent in these words,” he said, according to news accounts of the proceedings. He asked the judges to impose a fine of $4,000 on the uncle and $1,300 on the mother.
Claude Avril, Lagneau’s lawyer, asked for roughly the same amount but has since dropped his request to a symbolic 1 euro, according to the mayor. In any case, the main punishment, in case of a conviction, would be a criminal record that would make getting a job difficult and would probably land Bouchra and Zeyad Bagour on watch lists in airports around the world, Soliman pointed out.
Soliman and Bouchra’s lawyer, Gaele Guenoun, argued that neither defendant was a militant and neither intended to broadcast a political message. The T-shirt was a private affair, they pointed out, meaning it did not correspond to the legal definition of “apology for crime.”
After hearing the arguments, the court took the case under advisement and promised its verdict April 10.
Makouh said Lagneau was acting out of political interest, currying favor among anti- immigrant voters for municipal elections scheduled next year. Although a conservative, Lagneau faces a challenge from the far-right National Front. The front is strong among the 18,500 residents of Sorgues, and its rising star, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, is considering a run for mayor, Makouh said.
“This area is like Mississippi in the United States during the civil rights struggle,” he said.