99 French mosques, Muslim prayer halls investigated recently

France moves to shut mosque with preacher ‘targeting Christians, homosexuals, Jews’

Interior minister begins process to close house of worship for up to 6 months over ‘unacceptable’ preaching; authorities say religious leader also defended jihad in sermons

A woman walks outside the Paris mosque, October 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Illustrative: A woman walks outside the Paris Mosque, October 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS — France’s interior minister said on Tuesday he had launched a procedure to close a mosque for up to six months because of the radical nature of its imam’s preaching.

Gerald Darmanin told the Cnews TV channel he had “triggered” the process of shutting the mosque in Beauvais, a town of 50,000 some 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Paris, because of “unacceptable” preaching.

He said the mosque’s imam “is targeting Christians, homosexuals and Jews” in his sermons.

Authorities in the Oise region, where Beauvais is located, had already announced that they were considering closing down the mosque because of sermons they said incited hatred, violence and “defend jihad.”

An official at the Oise prefecture told AFP that a letter had been sent last week announcing the plan, adding that a 10-day period of information-gathering was legally required before any action could be taken.

Local daily Courrier Picard reported that the mosque’s imam was a recent convert to Islam.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin during a media conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, December 9, 2020. (Charles Platiau/Pool Photo via AP)

The paper quoted a lawyer for the association managing the mosque as saying that his remarks had been “taken out of context,” and said that the imam had been suspended from his duties following the prefecture’s letter.

Darmanin announced earlier this year that France would step up checks against places of worship and associations suspected of spreading radical Islamic propaganda.

The crackdown came after the October 2020 murder of teacher Samuel Paty who was targeted following an online campaign against him for having shown controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a civics class.

People gather with portraits of slain teacher Samuel Paty during a demonstration, on October 18, 2020, in Paris. (AP Photo/ Michel Euler)

According to the interior ministry, 99 mosques and Muslim prayer halls out of France’s total number of 2,623 have been investigated in recent months because they were suspected of spreading “separatist” ideology.

Of the total, 21 were currently shut for various reasons, and six were being probed with a view to closing them down on the basis of French laws against extremism and Islamist separatism.

In a statement, the director of The Simon Wiesenthal Centre welcomed the move to shutter the mosque, assessing that the government’s policy will play a central role in the upcoming presidential election

“Of some 2,600 mosques, prayer halls and Islamic schools in France, 99 so far have been investigated on the basis of President Macron’s ‘anti-separatism’ bill,” said Shimon Samuels. “Antisemitism is only one issue in this campaign for the values of France.”

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