The French government launched a “massive and unprecedented” wave of measures to combat what it calls religious “extremism”, targeting 76 mosques suspected of “separatism”.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin on Thursday tweeted his interview with RTL radio, writing: “In the coming days, checks will be carried out on these places of worship. If ever these doubts are confirmed, I will ask for their closure.”
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He also said 66 undocumented migrants suspected of “radicalisation” had been deported.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government has responded to several deadly attacks in recent weeks with a promise to crack down on what Darmanin has said is “the enemy within”.
76 mosquées sont aujourd’hui soupçonnées de séparatisme.
Dans les prochains jours, des contrôles vont être menés sur ces lieux de culte.
Si jamais ces doutes sont confirmés, je demanderai leur fermeture. pic.twitter.com/Mq8DGnB2Pr
— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) December 3, 2020
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.
“There are in some concentrated areas places of worship which are clearly anti-Republican [where] imams are followed by the intelligence services and where the discourse runs counter to our values,” he said.
The inspections to be carried out 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 did not reveal which places of worship would be inspected. In a note he sent to regional security chiefs, seen by AFP news agency, he listed 16 addresses in the Paris region and 60 others around the country.
The minister said the fact only a fraction of the 2,600 Muslim places of worship 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,” he said.
In October, Macron laid out a plan to tackle what he termed “Islamist separatism”, as he described Islam as a religion in crisis across the world – comments that upset Muslims in France and globally.
France is home to the largest Muslim minority population in Europe, and some fear being collectively punished after a series of attacks in recent months.
On October 20, France ordered the temporary closure of a mosque outside Paris as part of a crackdown on people who are suspected of inciting hatred, after the killing of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Grand Mosque of Pantin, in a low-income suburb on the capital’s northeastern outskirts, had shared a video on its Facebook page before the attack that vented hatred against Paty, who was beheaded in broad daylight near his school.
France has also closed two organisations – the Muslim charity BarakaCity and a civil rights group which monitors hate crimes – the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF); both have refuted the government’s accusations that they harboured “radical” links.
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 “extremism” have warned it against inadvertently lumping an overwhelming majority of their faith with the “fomenters of hate”.