PARIS - French Muslim leaders have distanced the sizable minority from a string of deadly shooting attacks in the European country, saying the killings run counter to Islamic teachings.
These acts are in total contradiction with the foundations of this religion, said Mohammed Moussaoui, the head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
France's Muslims are offended by this claim of belonging to this religion.
At least seven people, including two Muslim army soldiers, were killed in a series of shooting attacks in the southern city of Toulouse this month.
French police on Wednesday, March 21, besieged a suspect in the attacks, in which the attacker gunned down three Jewish children on Monday, in a flat in Toulouse.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant said the gunman was a French citizen of Algerian origin who had been to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He said the suspect claims to be an Al-Qaeda member, who is fighting to avenge Palestinian killings.
"This person has made trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past ... and says he belongs to Al-Qaeda and says he wanted to avenge Palestinian children and to attack the French army," Gueant said.
"He has links with people involved in Jihadism and Salafism.
If the suspect is proved to have been responsible for the killings, it would bring to an end one of the most intense manhunts in French history.
The shootings began on March 11, when a paratrooper of North African origin arranged to meet a man in Toulouse to sell him a scooter which he had advertised online, revealing in the ad his military status.
A message sent from the suspect's brother's IP address was used to set up an appointment to inspect the bike, an appointment at which Muslim paratrooper Imad Ibn Ziaten was subsequently killed, a police source said.
Four days later three more paratroopers from another regiment were gunned down -- two of them fatally -- in the same fashion in a street in the nearby garrison town of Montauban.
The dead -- Corporal Abel Chennouf, 25, and Private First Class Mohammed Legouade, 23, both of the 17th Parachute Engineering Regiment -- were French soldiers of North African Arab origin.
Muslim soldiers are prized targets for militant groups like Al-Qaeda, which regards Muslims who fight for Western armies as traitors.
Don't Stigmatize Muslims
Moussaoui called for not stigmatizing the Muslim minority after the attacks.
"I'm completely surprised that the author of these misdeeds be from a fundamentalist, jihadist, terrorist-type movement of the kind we thought was controlled, neutralized and harmless in our country," Boubakeur said.
"We understand the seriousness of this news ... because it is important not to mix this up with the Muslim religion, which is 99.9 percent peaceful, civic-minded, reasonable, non-violent and entirely integrated in our country."
Moussaoui and Richard Prasquier, the head of France's main Jewish organization (CRIF), met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday to discuss the attacks.
The joint meeting shows an important thing that it is absolutely impossible to confuse this person and the Islamist, jihadist, al-Qaedist movement that he represents, with Islam in France, which is a religion like any other, Prasquier said.
There are French Muslims among this man's enemies, he said.
We must avoid all complacency with regard to these movements, which represent a true danger to our republic.
Sarkozy, running for re-election in five weeks time, said France should not give way to discrimination or vengeance after the shootings, Reuters reported.
His warning came after far-right leader Marine Le Pen, a rival presidential candidate, said France should wage war on Islamic fundamentalism.
"I have brought the Jewish and Muslim communities together to show that terrorism will not manage to break our nation's feeling of community," Sarkozy said after the meeting.
"We must stand together. We must not cede to discrimination or vengeance."France is home to a Muslim minority of six million, the largest in Europe.