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03.12.2020 Europe

France begins crackdown on mosques suspected of encouraging Islamist extremists

© Stephane de Sakutin/Pool via REUTERS
LISTEN DEC 3, 2020
© Stephane de Sakutin/Pool via REUTERS

France's interior minister has announced an operation targeting dozens of mosques and prayer houses across France as part of a crackdown on Islamist extremists and radical teaching. This comes as French minsters gear up to debate a bill designed to combat separatism, as part of an initiative launched by President Emmanuel Macron.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told French media on Wednesday that if any prayer hall or mosque was found to promote radical teaching and 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.

The minister sent a docuemnt to regional security chiefs, listing 16 addresses in the Paris region and 60 others around the country, 18 of them facing "immediate action" which could lead to closure.

According to information obtained by the Figaro newspaper, the interior minister confirmed that 18 of those prayer halls were in the Seine-Saint-Denis area north of Paris.

"Out of 231 foreigners in France illegally, currently under surveillance for radicalisation, 66 have been deported, 46 are in specialised detention centres, 30 are under house arrest and five are in prison," he told RTL radio on Thursday morning.

"Nearly all Muslims in France respect the laws of the Republic and are hurt by that (radicalisation)," he insisted, adding that only a fraction of the 2,600 Muslim places of worship in France were suspected of peddling radical theories.

This showed "we are far from a situation of widespread radicalisation" he said.

The announcement of the special operation comes of next Wednesday's Cabinet meeting which will examine the bill on reinforcing Republican values, designed to "combat separatism" and Islamist separatism, as per the directives given earlier this year by President Emmanuel Macron.

The latest inspections come as Darmanin attempts to fend off fierce criticism over cases of police brutality caught on camera that have forced the ruling party to revise a controversial bill restricting filming of the police.

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