Protesters ransack Muslim prayer hall in Corsica

Protesters ransack Muslim prayer hall in Corsica

PM decries ‘unacceptable desecration’ of holy place after hall set on fire on French island, copies of Koran burned

People take pictures outside the devastated Muslim prayer hall in Ajaccio, on December 25, 2015. (Pierre-Antoine Fournil/AFP)
People take pictures outside the devastated Muslim prayer hall in Ajaccio, on December 25, 2015. (Pierre-Antoine Fournil/AFP)

Demonstrators ransacked a Muslim prayer hall and tried to set fire to copies of the Koran on the French island of Corsica Friday, police said, in an attack condemned by the government.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls wrote on Twitter that the break-in in the city of Ajaccio was “an unacceptable desecration.”

A small group of protesters went to the Muslim prayer hall, broke down the glass door and ransacked the room, local officials said.

Tensions had mounted in Ajaccio Friday after two firefighters and a police officer were injured overnight in clashes in a low-income neighborhood of the city.

“After the intolerable attack against the firemen, an unacceptable desecration of a Muslim prayer hall. Respect the law of the Republic,” Valls tweeted.

In the afternoon, some 600 people assembled peacefully in Ajaccio, in a sign of support for the two firemen and the police officer injured the day before in what authorities called an “ambush” by “hooded young men.”

Between 250 and 300 of the demonstrators they decided to walk to Jardins de l’Empereur, a popular spot at a higher altitude and the scene of Thursday’s violence.

With some chanting “Arabi Fora! [Arabs out, in Corsican] ” and “This is our home!” they tried catching those responsible for Thursday’s attack, even as police officers tried to maintain calm.

The prefect of Corsica, Christophe Mirmand said that “all means were used” in efforts to find the perpetrators of Thursday’s attack. He also felt that “the threats tonight [Friday] are not acceptable.”

A small group then ransacked a Muslim prayer room located nearby and tried to set it to fire, partially successfully and the fire destroyed dozens of books, including copies of the Koran.

The National Observatory against Islamophobia of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) “strongly condemned” the incident “on a day of prayer for Muslims and Christians”, as Christmas this year fell just after Mouled, the Muslim holiday commemorating the birth of prophet Muhammad.

Regional elections in mid-December were marked by a strong showing of the far-right National Front all over France, but in Corsica nationalist who want to separate from Paris won the first place.

Leader of the Corsican independence party Jean-Guy Talamoni made his inauguration speech at the regional assembly last week entirely in Corsican, a local dialect far closer to Italian than it is to French.

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