France’s embattled interior minister on Thursday announced raids on dozens of mosques suspected of Islamist extremism following Emmanuel Macron’s pledge to fight “separatism” in the wake of terror attacks.
Gérald Darmanin said 76 mosques out of the more than 2,600 Muslim places of worship had been flagged as possible threats to French Republican values and its security. Any mosque found to be fomenting extremism would be closed down, he added.
Eighteen of the 76 are in the Paris area and 18 face imminent closure, according to reports. The first swoops were due on Thursday afternoon.
“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,” Mr Darminin told RL radio.
Investigators will probe the mosques’ funding and the background of imams deemed suspicious.
The Right-wing minister insisted the relatively small number of mosques targeted showed that “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.
The raids are part of a response to two recent gruesome attacks that appalled France – the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and the stabbing to death of three people in a church in Nice.
In the aftermath, 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 Mr Paty.
President Emmanuel Macron has warned of the growing menace of “Islamist separatism” and its challenge to France’s staunchly secular Republic, summed up by the word “laïcité”.
The freedom of belief, gender equality and the right to blaspheme is threatened in certain areas, he has warned, citing claims of children from ultraconservative Muslim families being taken out of school, and sporting and cultural associations being used to indoctrinate youth.
To combat this, his government will table next week a new bill on “bolstering the principles of the Republic”.
Among its proposed measures would be to provide each child in France a unique ID number to ensure they are attending school and not in “the clutches of Islamists”, as Mr Darminin put it.
It would also make it a crime to intimidate public servants on religious grounds and crack down on online hate speech by enabling judges to hold fast-track trials of terror suspects.
The draft bill also introduces jail terms and fines for doctors who provide controversial so-called “virginity certificates” for traditional religious marriages.
Those caught handing them out face a year in jail and fine of €15,000.
Mr Macron’s staunch defence of French principles upholding freedom of expression, including blasphemy, triggered protests in some Muslim countries.
Some suggested Mr Darminin’s headline-grabbing announcement of raids was part of a plan to deflect massive criticism over his handling of claims of police brutality caught on camera in recent days.
The controversy forced the ruling party to revise a controversial bill restricting filming of the police.
After nationwide protests on Saturday, prime minister Jean Castex confirmed that Article 24 of the “global security” law would be totally re-written.