PARIS French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron was endorsed by some of France's top counter-terrorism experts on Wednesday, in a boost for the former economy minister who has been accused by his far-right rival of being weak on Islamist militancy.
In a letter seen by Reuters, seven former top officials of French counter-terrorism institutions came out in support of the 39-year old centrist, who will face Marine Le Pen in the election run-off on Sunday.
They said it would be wrong to respond to terrorism with tougher emergency measures that would infringe on civil liberties and democratic values, feeding what they called "Islamic State propaganda".
"This red line must never be crossed," they wrote. "By crossing it, Mrs. Le Pen is playing into the hands of jihadist groups, and it's our country she's putting at risk."
In her campaign, Le Pen has insisted on the threat of Islamist militancy, which has claimed more than 230 lives in France since 2015, saying Macron was "to say the least, weak" on the issue.
She has promised to suspend the European Union's open-border agreement on France's frontiers and expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services.
Macron's internal security programme calls for 10,000 more police officers, and 15,000 new prison places, as well as the rebuilding of France's domestic surveillance apparatus which was cut down to size under former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The experts backing Macron include former magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere, whose biggest case was the explosion of UTA flight 772 over the Sahara desert in 1989, in which he convicted six Libyans in absentia.
Other names on the list are Jean-Claude Cousserand, the former head of France's DGSE, its top foreign spying agency and the equivalent of Britain's MI6, as well as Jacques Fournet, former head of the DST domestic intelligence agency.
Ange Mancini, Sarkozy's former intelligence coordinator, anti-terrorism prosecutor Michel Debacq, former top police official Rene-Georges Querry and Jean-Michel Fauvergue, whose RAID elite police force led operations against Islamist attackers of the Bataclan theatre in 2015, also signed the letter.
Fauvergue is now running for parliament under the colours of Macron's "En Marche!" party.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)