NANTERRE, France — France's far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said Wednesday there is no shame in fighting so-called Islamization of France and insists it won't breed a mass killer like the anti-Muslim Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik.
Le Pen said that Islam is taking over French neighborhoods and fighting its spread must not stop "out of fear of a crazy man." Breivik, a far-right fanatic, is on trial in Norway over a massacre of 77 people.
"Is fighting Islamic fundamentalism reprehensible? Is fighting against the Sharia (Muslim law) reprehensible?," Le Pen said during an interview with The Associated Press. "I take responsibility."
Le Pen cites as proof of the Islamist threat in France the case of Mohamed Merah, a young Frenchman of Algerian origin who killed seven people around Toulouse last month — three French paratroopers, a rabbi and three Jewish school children, before he was shot dead by police during a raid to capture him.
Following the Toulouse shootings, President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered a crackdown on Islamist networks, detaining members of a banned Islamist group and expelled a handful of radicals, including Muslim clerics.
The 43-year-old Le Pen, who is coming up third in the pre-election polls — behind Socialist contender Francois Hollande and Sarkozy — insists that the National Front is a populist party — not an extremist one.
She presents herself as the "anti-system" candidate trying to protect French sovereignty and the national identity by taking France out of the euro zone, drastically cutting immigration and waging a war on what she claims is the Islamization of France.
Sarkozy, who banned burqa-style veils in France, took up themes dear to Le Pen even before the Merah affair with tough talk against immigration and radical Islamists in a bid to woo her voters — as he did successfully in the 2007 election.
In an interview Wednesday on BFM-TV, he named her directly, asking "The vote for Marine Le Pen serves whom? Francois Hollande."
Le Pen says that Sarkozy is a has-been: "Nicolas Sarkozy has lost. He won't be re-elected."
Le Pen has taken over the helm of the National Front founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who reached the final round in the 2002 vote against then-President Jacques Chirac. He was defeated by a rare alliance of left-right forces, then roundly defeated in the first round of the 2007 voting that put Sarkozy in office.
Marine Le Pen predicted a possible "surprise" in Sunday's vote. She says her party's views are much more widespread than polls suggest, noting that pre-vote surveys failed to predict Jean-Marie Le Pen's advance to the final round of balloting in 2002.
Marine Le Pen gave herself the job of cleaning up the National Front's image, tarnished by her father's racist and anti-Semitic language that drew several court convictions.
She insists that the clean-up job — which she calls "undemonizing" — is working, among the people if not the ruling "caste," her word for the decision-makers.
There was a palpable sense that the party could turn the corner at Le Pen's final rally Tuesday night ahead of the voting, with some 6,000 people filling a Paris hall.
The presidential election is far from her last power bid. Like other party leaders, she is eyeing June legislative elections and thinking about allying with other forces under a joint group that plays on her name — the Blue Marine Rally.