PARIS (Reuters) - New questions surfaced about the personal security of French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday as Le Monde daily reported an incident in which a bodyguard accidentally fired a bullet in the Elysee Palace.
France has long been watchful for militant attacks and January’s killings by Islamist gunmen at a satirical weekly and Jewish foodstore has set the country even more on alert.
Concerns over Hollande’s own security were raised in 2014 after he was photographed making clandestine visits to a mistress on a scooter.
Le Monde said the April 10 incident involved a bullet let off by a gun dropped accidentally by one of his close protection staff, the GSPR (Groupe de securite de la presidence de la Republique), near a ground-floor toilet of the Elysee. Hollande was not in the building and the bullet ricocheted into a wall.
But the daily cited sources inside the GSPR, an elite unit comprising police and military police but whose staffing was reduced by Hollande from 93 to under 60, as saying the episode was typical of what they called shortcomings in his security.
One noting some of his bodyguards failed to go for statutory medical checks and that basic security drills were overlooked.
Another said Hollande’s decision on Jan. 7 to visit the site of the Charlie Hebdo magazine where Islamist gunmen had minutes before killed 12 people risked exposing him to a second attack, a tactic used by insurgents in Iraq to target senior officials.
“We didn’t let a dog go through (the security cordon). But we took the president into a suicide zone,” one GSPR member told Le Monde, on condition of anonymity.
Hollande’s office declined to comment on specifics of Le Monde’s investigation but issued a statement denying that his security was in any way compromised.
“The president’s security is completely guaranteed at all times and in places,” it said.
French officials acknowledge France’s military role fighting Islamists in Mali and Iraq make it a possible target of attacks. French nationals have joined fighting in Syria and their return to French soil is seen as a major threat to domestic security.
After his election in 2012 the Socialist Hollande sought to portray himself as remaining close to ordinary French people and is still known for enjoying encounters with the public on extended walks during official visits around the country.
Reporting by Mark John and Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky