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'Increase of radical imams' worries France

AFP/The Local · 17 Feb 2015, 15:54

Published: 17 Feb 2015 15:54 GMT+01:00

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Just weeks after France was rocked by a series of terror attacks by homegrown jihadists, the intelligence services in the country are concerned by a growing number of mosques that are home to radical preachers.

According to RTL radio the intelligence services are increasingly concerned that mosques in France are being taken over by extremist imams.

RTL says it has seen a report by intelligence services which states there are 25 “radical prayer rooms” in the Ile-de-France region around Paris, 22 in the region around the city of Lyon and 13 around Marseille.

The report also claims there are 10,000 fundamentalists in France, which is a tenfold increase on the number ten years ago.

But it’s not just in the biggest cities that radical preachers are setting up. RTL says the towns of Vitrollles, near Aix-en-Provence, Alès in the department of Gard and Brest in Brittany have also seen fundamentalist preachers take charge of mosques.

The strategy used by radicals to take over a mosque is normally the same and sees a group of young opponents challenge the existing Imam and deposing him, before installing their own preacher.

It can even happen when the Imam is away on holiday.

Mindful of falling foul of the law and being detected by intelligence services, who are keeping a close eye on the Mosque, these newly installed radical preachers don’t directly incite followers to take up jihad.

But the language they use is increasingly provocative with reports from one mosque in Marseille that Muslim worshippers were encouraged to “leave the land of the infidels”.

RTL says intelligence services have identified another 20 mosques are under threat of being taken over by radicals.

Often it is enough for police to merely show their presence to put them off.

In the past France has taken a hardline against radical imams.

Story continues below…

In January 2013 The Local reported how then Interior Minister Manuel Valls announced that Paris was set to deport several extremist imams as part of the global fight against jihadism.

“I don’t confuse this radical Islam with the Islam of France, but there is a religious environment, there are Salafist groupings, who are involved in a political process, whose aim is to monopolize cultural associations and schools,” he said.

“We will expel all these imams, all these foreign preachers who denigrate women, who holds views that run counter to our values and who say there is a need to fight France,” said Valls, who has since become Prime Minister.

In March 2012 former President Nicolas Sarkozy banned four Muslim preachers from entering France to attend an Islamic conference, saying their "calls for hatred and violence" were a threat to public order.

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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