PARIS - The French footballer Karim Benzema has filed a defamation lawsuit against the country’s interior minister after he claimed the Al-Ittihad player had “notorious” links with the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the 92-page complaint, filed on January 16, the former Ballon d’Or winner accuses Gérald Darmanin of exploiting him to score political points, noting that he “has never had the slightest link with the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, nor to [his] knowledge with anyone who claims to be a member of it.”

The hardline minister targeted the 36-year-old Franco-Algerian player on October 17, after Benzema expressed solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza online.

“Our prayers to the people of Gaza, victims once again of unjust bombardments that spare neither women nor children,” he wrote on X. Without offering any evidence, Darmanin told a French conservative broadcaster that “Benzema is notoriously linked with the Muslim Brotherhood; we all know it.”

Days later, after Benzema had denied the allegations and threatened legal reprisals, Darmanin fended off calls in an interview with BFMTV to provide proof. He instead cited the fact that the player had not tweeted in support of the Israelis killed in Hamas’s October 7 attacks or the French teacher stabbed to death by an Islamist former pupil in Arras, describing his interviewers as being naive.

Darmanin’s comments have been challenged not only for being factually inaccurate but also for their potential to harm the player’s reputation.

The Muslim Brotherhood is an “Islamist movement” that has been banned in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and several other Middle Eastern countries. “I am aware of the extent to which, because of my notoriety, I am being used in political games, which are all the more scandalous given that the dramatic events since October 7 deserve something quite different from this type of statement,” said Benzema in the lawsuit.

Darmanin’s accusation prompted calls from Valérie Boyer, a senator and vice president of the conservative Les Républicains Party, to strip Benzema of his citizenship and his 2022 Ballon d’Or—the highest individual award a professional football player can receive.”

Benzema’s lawyer, Hugues Vigier, described the minister’s words as out of line. “It’s the exact opposite of what a man who calls himself a politician should be working towards,” he told the French broadcaster RTL. He added that Darmanin’s comments were “sowing division in France, with lots of people who don’t understand this kind of talk, some who exclude Karim Benzema, and some who feel excluded by what is being said about him.”