A sculpture dedicated to the Algerian anti-colonial freedom fighter and national hero, Emir Abdelkader, has been vandalised in central France, hours before it was to be inaugurated yesterday.
The steel sculpture by artist Michel Audiard was commissioned to mark the 60th anniversary of Algeria's independence from France and was symbolically displayed in the town of Amboise, where the Islamic scholar-turned-military leader had been imprisoned from 1848 to 1852 after leading the resistance against the French invasion of the North African country in 1830.
The sculpture was the idea of historian Benjamin Stora who was tasked by President Emmanuel Macron to come up with a way to help reconcile relations between the two countries following the brutal, hard won eight-year war of liberation, ending 132 years of French rule.
However, the lower part of the artwork was badly damaged and coincided with an election campaign amid a rise in anti-immigration and Islamophobic rhetoric. Police have since launched an investigation into the incident.
The town's mayor Thierry Boutard who decided to continue with the ceremony was quoted by AFP as saying "I was ashamed that someone would treat an artwork and an artist in this way."
"My second sentiment is of course one of indignation. This is a day of harmony and unity and this kind of behaviour is unspeakable," he added.
In attendance at the inauguration was Algeria's ambassador to Paris, Mohamed Antar Daoud who condemned the attack as an act of "unspeakable baseness."
Abdelkader was born in the Regency of Algiers, then part of the Ottoman empire and was an Islamic scholar and sufi before becoming a military leader who united Algeria's tribes to fight against the French, leading a fierce resistance such that he was once dubbed "France's worst enemy" and is considered among the founders of modern-day Algeria.
After spending four years imprisoned at Amboise castle, following a failed rebellion he later moved to Syria where he won international recognition over saving the lives of thousands of local Christians and members of the European diplomatic community during a local pogrom in 1860 following sectarian violence between Druze and Maronites.