French authorities will swoop down Thursday on dozens of mosques and prayer halls suspected of radical teachings as part of a crackdown on Islamist extremists following a spate of attacks, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said.
Darmanin told RTL radio that if any prayer hall was found to promote extremism it would be closed down.
The inspections to be carried out on Thursday afternoon are part of a response to two gruesome attacks that particularly shocked France– the beheading of a teacher who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and the stabbing to death of three people in a church in Nice.
Darmanin said 76 mosques out of the more than 2,600 Muslim places of worship had been flagged as possible threats to France’s Republican values and its security.
He did not reveal which places of worship would be inspected, but in a note he sent to regional security chiefs, seen by AFP, he listed 16 addresses in the Paris region and 60 others around the country.
“There are in some concentrated areas places of worship that are clearly anti-Republican,” Darmanin told RTL radio, “(where) imams are followed by the intelligence services and where the discourse runs counter to our values”.
But he added that the fact that only a fraction of the mosques in France were suspected of peddling radical theories showed “we are far from a situation of widespread radicalisation”.
“Nearly all Muslims in France respect the laws of the Republic and are hurt by that (radicalisation),” he said.
Investigators will dig into the mosques’ financing and the background of imams deemed suspicious and search for evidence, among other things, of Koranic schools for young children.
The killing of the teacher, Samuel Paty, who had shown his pupils cartoons of Mohammed in a class on free speech, sent shockwaves through France, where it was seen as an attack on the republic itself.
In the aftermath of his murder the authorities raided dozens of Islamic sports groups, charities and associations suspected of promoting extremism.
They also ordered the temporary closure of a mosque near Paris that shared a vitriolic video inciting hatred of Paty.
President Emmanuel Macron has warned of the growing threat of ‘Islamist separatism’ and its challenge to the unity of the secular French republic. Core French values such as the freedom of belief, gender equality and the right to blaspheme are threatened in localised areas, he has said.
“Faced with this ill that is eating into our country, France has rallied with resilience, with determination,” the president wrote in a letter to the Financial Times newspaper in November.
The government’s crackdown has left some Muslims feeling increasingly alienated in their own country. Some Muslim leaders, while backing the government’s fight against Islamism, have warned it against inadvertently lumping an overwhelming majority of their faith with the “fomenters of hate”.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)