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Normandy mosque refuses to hold funeral for terrorist who killed priest

Muslim religious leader says community will not participate in preparations or burial of Adel Kermiche so as ‘not to sully Islam’

Muslim worshipers attend the Friday prayer at the Yahya Mosque, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, France, Friday, July 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Muslim worshipers attend the Friday prayer at the Yahya Mosque, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, France, Friday, July 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

SAINT-ETIENNE-DU-ROUVRAY, France — A local mosque in the French town where an elderly priest was killed in a jihadist terror attack at a church on Tuesday has refused to hold a funeral service for one of the two terrorists who perpetrated the attack.

The two, Adel Kermiche, 19 and Abdel Malik Nabil Petitjean, also 19, were killed by police after a standoff outside the church which they had stormed during morning mass. They took at least five people hostage before slitting the priest’s throat at the altar and leaving another person in a critical condition.

The killing of 85-year-old Rev. Jacques Hamel as he celebrated morning Mass sent shockwaves around France and deeply touched many among the nation’s five million Muslims. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, as well as the July 14 truck attack in Nice, where 84 people were killed by a man who plowed his truck down a seaside promenade.

According to Le Parisien on Saturday, the leader of the mosque in Saint-Etienne-Du-Rouvray in Normandy where the church attack occurred — and a personal friend of the murdered priest — said the mosque would not bury Kermiche in a Muslim service so as not to “sully Islam with this person.”

Normandy church attackers, Adel Kermiche, 19 (left) and Abdel Malik Nabil Petitjean, also 19, pledge allegiance to Islamic State (Screen capture: Youtube)
Normandy church attackers, Adel Kermiche, 19 (left) and Abdel Malik Nabil Petitjean, also 19, pledge allegiance to Islamic State (Screen capture: Youtube)

“We will not participate in the preparations or in the burial,” said Mohammed Karabila, who heads the regional council of Muslim worship for Haute Normandie.

A worshiper at the mosque told Le Parisien that Kermiche’s “awful” actions warrant his rejection by the community.

Karabila said Tuesday after the attack that he was “stunned by the death of my friend [Hamel]. He was someone who gave his life to others. We are dumbfounded at the mosque.”

Karabila said the two had been on an interfaith committee for the previous 18 months.

84-year-old French priest Jacques Hamel was murdered in an apparent Islamic State terror attack on his church in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in Normandy on July 26, 2016 (Photo from Twitter)
84-year-old French priest Jacques Hamel was murdered in an apparent Islamic State terror attack on his church in the town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in Normandy on July 26, 2016 (Photo from Twitter)

On Friday, Muslims and Catholics joined in prayers at the mosque, with one imam chastising the extremists as non-Muslims who are “not part of civilization.”

Muslims came from other parts of France for the service shared with Christians.

The head of the main Muslim umbrella group, Anouar Kbibech, who attended Friday’s gathering, reiterated a call for Muslims to visit churches on Sunday to show solidarity with Christians as they pray. But one imam made a rare direct strike at the killers who claimed to act in the name of Allah.

“You have the wrong civilization, because you are not a part of civilization. You have the wrong humanity, because you are not a part of humanity,” said Abdelatif Hmitou. “You have the wrong idea about us [Muslims], and we won’t forgive you for this.”

“How,” he asked, addressing the extremists, “did the idea reach your mind that we might loathe those who helped us … to pray to Allah in this town? How could you think that, Mr. killer? Mr. criminal?”

He was referring to the help by the Sainte Therese church, which is adjacent to the mosque. The church sold the plot to Muslims for a symbolic sum so they could build a house of worship.

Outside the mosque a sign read: “Mosque in mourning.”

Muslim worshipers walk past a poster reading 'Mourning Mosque' after the Friday prayer at the Yahya Mosque, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, France, Friday, July 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Muslim worshipers walk past a poster reading ‘Mourning Mosque’ after the Friday prayer at the Yahya Mosque, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, France, Friday, July 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

The Rev. Pierre Belhache, in charge of relations with the Muslim community, affirmed to the Muslim and Christian faithful that “we won’t let anyone divide us. It is so rich to have these differences but still be together.”

Also Friday, a 19-year-old was handed preliminary charges on Friday for “criminal terrorist association” after investigators found a video at his home showing Petitjean warning of a “violent action” to come, a judicial official said.

Investigators were reaching across France to unravel the church attack plot. A Syrian refugee was detained on Thursday in the Allier region of central France because a photocopy of his passport was found at the home of Kermiche, the official said.

Also being held was a cousin of Petitjean on suspicion he was aware of the attack plan based on information culled from social networks, the judicial official said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

A 16-year-old arrested just after the attack remained in custody.

How Kermiche, from northwest Normandy, concocted the attack plot with Petitjean, from Aix-les-Bain in the Alps of eastern France, remained unclear. What is known is that Petitjean arrived in Kermiche’s town just three days earlier, apparently staying at his home, according to the judicial official.

Kermiche wore a tracking bracelet after arrests with false ID’s trying to go to Syria but had four hours a day of freedom. Petitjean had no criminal record.

Petitjean’s identity was made public Thursday based on DNA tests. Anti-terrorist officials came close twice before the attack to identifying him as a threat. Four days before the attack, an alert with a photo of him went out to French police with a note he may be planning an attack — but the photo had no name. He was spotted in Turkey in June, but French authorities were alerted too late and he quickly returned to France.

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