The Halal butcher owner from the western city of Nantes, who has been accused over the past few years of polygamy, terrorist activity, aggravated rape and benefit fraud, is back in the French press again. This time, Lies Hebbadj is in trouble on behalf of two of his partners, who were caught wearing the niqab in public (illegal under French law since April), and fined 140 euros each.
Hebbadj outside court on Monday with his legal wife and one of his mistresses (AFP).
Hebbadj first made it into the headlines in April 2010 when his legal wife was arrested for wearing a niqab while driving a car, which the police deemed dangerous. Ticking every box on the ‘unwelcome immigrant checklist’ (despite arriving in France at the age of two), he effortlessly embodied the far-right’s raison d’etre and shot to fame as the ‘polygamous Muslim butcher from Nantes’. The accusations – that he had travelled to Pakistan to train as a terrorist, lived with four women, had dozens of children, was running an Islamist sect – soon started to fly.
So when he was actually charged with welfare fraud in June that year, and then aggravated rape two months later, the real charges were overshadowed by the array of fantastic rumours drummed up by the rightwing press.
The situation was not helped by Hebbadj’s twisted sense of humour. When then interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, threatened to take Hebbadj’s French passport away from him for practicing polygamy in the summer of 2010, he laughed off the claims by arguing that he had one legal wife and three mistresses – what could be more French than that? “If I’m stripped of my nationality for having mistresses, they’ll have to strip a lot more people here in France,” he told reporters with a smirk.
Hebbadj taking his dog for a walk in April (AFP).
Born in Algeria in 1975, Hebbadj became a French citizen when he was married in 1999. According to his neighbours, he’s a quiet resident who spends his evenings visiting his female friends (presumably his mistresses – they’re all single mothers who wear the niqab but continue to produce offspring). While he is accused of Islamist dealings, local Muslim leaders argue he is more interested in cars and women than Islam, which they say he employs as “a costume that he puts on to seduce women”.
On Monday, Hebbadj returned to the spotlight when he turned up at court to represent his wife and mistress. Accompanied by a posse of fans to protest against the charges, the ‘criminals’ themselves had to wait outside, for the same infraction that got them arrested in the first place (they were wearing the niqab). Hebbadj told the judge he was happy to attend the hearing because it meant he could appeal the sentences and request to be heard in a court of human rights (without specifying one in particular).
The ruling UMP party was probably delighted to see Hebbadj back in the papers – he could prove a useful tool in the run-up to the presidential election. Nicolas Sarkozy has shown a willingness to upset the country’s 5 million-strong Muslim community if it means winning back far-right voters who are siding with the more hardline National Front party. With his distinctive attire, niqab-clad harem and snarky sense of humour, Hebbadj is the perfect excuse for a hardline approach to immigration.