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Benzema’s hiding something, says French minister in Islamist row

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin accused Karim Benzema of links with Islamists after the footballer posted support for Gazans. (Pool/AP pic)

ABU DHABI: French interior minister Gerald Darmanin defended his claim that Karim Benzema has links with the Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday, insisting the star footballer’s “selective” social media posts showed he was hiding something.

Darmanin, a tough-talking right-winger with designs on the presidency, made the accusation last week after Benzema posted his support for the residents of Gaza during its bombardment by Israel.

The bombings were triggered by an attack by Palestinian group Hamas, who stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Oct 7 and killed at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians, kidnapping 222 others.

More than 6,500 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed across the Gaza Strip in relentless Israeli retaliatory strikes, according to the latest toll from the Hamas health ministry in Gaza.

Benzema, the French international forward now playing in Saudi Arabia, has an “extraordinary societal responsibility”, Darmanin said, referring to his fame and social media following.

“You might ask why the interior minister reacts to the tweet of a footballer, but when he touches 20 million people I think it’s my role to denounce that,” Darmanin told an audience of French community leaders during a trip to Abu Dhabi.

“Because you could ask what is a footballer doing tweeting a political opinion, and when he does it he does it in a selective way.

“I think personally that that is hiding something, and not to see it is naive.”

After Benzema posted on X, formerly Twitter, his prayers for the “victims of these unjust bombings”, Darmanin alleged last week that Benzema “has a notorious link with the Muslim Brotherhood”, a Sunni Muslim Islamist group with its origins in Egypt.

Benzema’s lawyer has insisted the claim is false.

Darmanin said he had “nothing against” Benzema, but that it was “astonishing” that the footballer had not tweeted in support of the Israelis killed in the Hamas attack, or the French teacher stabbed to death by an Islamist former pupil earlier this month.

“I publicly called for him to tweet for that teacher who for absolutely nothing, is dead because of Islamist terrorism, and he didn’t do it,” the minister said, in answer to a question from the floor.

Islamist “separatism” can show itself in various ways including through charities, teaching and music, as well as “athletes who subscribe to a Salafist ideology, close to the Muslim Brotherhood”, Darmanin added.

“Not to see it is to lie to people,” he told the function at the French ambassador’s residence in the United Arab Emirates capital, where he met senior officials including President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.

Benzema, who is Muslim, joined Al-Ittihad in Jeddah, the gateway to the holy city of Mecca, on a lucrative contract earlier this year.

The 35-year-old reigning Ballon d’Or winner had been due to address the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh earlier on Wednesday, but the appearance was cancelled.