The sculpture of an Algerian military hero, was vandalized in central France on Saturday just hours before its official opening.

This artwork was created to commemorate 60 years of Algerian independence. It depicts Emir Abdelkader who was once called “France’s worst enemy”.

Abdelkader was the leader of the fight against the French invasion in Algeria in 1830.

He was held in French prison for four years, in Amboise where the new sculpture is now located.

The mayor of the town decided to proceed with Saturday’s ceremony, saying that he was embarrassed that anyone would treat artworks in this manner.

Thierry Boutard said, “This is a day that is full of harmony and unity. This kind of behavior is unimaginable.”

The French ambassador to Algeria said that it was an act characterized by “unspeakable baseness”.

This vandalism occurs during France’s presidential election campaign. During which time immigration and Islam were significant issues for some candidates, the vandalism occurred.

Ouassila Soum (37-year-old Frenchwoman of Algerian heritage) said that while it was a shame, “it’s not surprising with hate rhetoric and the nauseating atmosphere currently in place,” she added.

Emir Abdelkader was an Islamic scholar who became a military ruler. He is known for being one of the founders and leaders of modern-day Algeria. He led the rebellion in the 19th Century, but it failed. He was taken to France, where he was imprisoned with his family for four years in Amboise (a small town south-west Paris).

Later, he was recognized for his efforts in defending Christians against sectarian attacks in Middle East. He travelled to the Middle East after being released from France.

After a brutal eight-year war, Algeria gained independence from France in 1962. This conflict continues to complicate relations between these two countries. The death toll is estimated at between 400,000-one million.

The new sculpture looks across the Loire to the castle where Abdelkader was held. It was created by a historian who was asked by French President Emmanuel Macron for ways to help heal the memory of the war and French rule in Algeria.