PARIS: French authorities will inspect dozens of mosques and prayer halls suspected of radical teachings starting Thursday as part of a crackdown on extremists following a spate of attacks, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
Darmanin told RTL radio that if any of the 76 prayer halls inspected was found to promote extremism they would be closed down.
The inspections are part of the government’s response to two brutal recent attacks that shocked France — the October 16 beheading of a teacher who showed his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and the stabbing to death of three people in a church in Nice on October 29.
Darmanin did not reveal which places of worship would be inspected. In a note he sent to regional security chiefs, seen by AFP, he cites 16 addresses in the Paris region and 60 others around the country.
On Twitter Wednesday he said the mosques were suspected of “separatism” — a term President Emmanuel Macron has used to describe ultraconservative Muslims closing themselves off from French society by, for example, enrolling their children in underground schools or forcing young girls to wear the Muslim headscarf.
The rightwing minister told RTL the fact that only a fraction of the around 2,600 Muslim places of worship in France were suspected of peddling radical theories showed “we are far from a situation of widespread radicalization.”
“Nearly all Muslims in France respect the laws of the Republic and are hurt by that (radicalization),” he said.
The killing of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown his pupils cartoons of Mohammad in a class on free speech, at a school outside Paris sent shockwaves through France, where it was seen as an attack on the republic itself.
In the aftermath of his murder the authorities raided dozens of associations, sports groups and charities suspected of promoting extremism.
They also ordered the temporary closure of a large mosque in the Paris suburb of Pantin that had shared a vitriolic video lambasting Paty.
The government has also announced plans to step up the deportations of illegal migrants on radicalization watchlists.
Darmanin said that 66 of 231 foreigners on a watchlist had been expelled, around 50 others had been put in migrant detention centers and a further 30 had been placed under house arrest.
The minister announced the latest clampdown after receiving fierce criticism for pushing a bill that would make it harder to document police brutality.
Images of officers beating up black music producer Michel Zecler in his studio brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets last weekend against Darmanin’s push to restrict the filming of the police in the new bill.
MPs from Macron’s ruling Republic on the Move party have since announced plans to rewrite the legislation.