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Panic as French pilgrims mistaken for jihadists

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Panic as French pilgrims mistaken for jihadists
13:36 CEST+02:00
The heightened sense of fear in France of further terror attacks is having some unfortunate effects after three Catholic pilgrims were mistaken for Islamists as they took a breather in a church for a period of reflection.

Ever since April's foiled terror attack on a church near Paris fears have grown that jihadists would target France's Christian places of worship.

That fear was evident earlier this month when three pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in north western Spain were mistaken for Islamic radicals by worried churchgoers.

According to a report in local news site Lyon Capitale.fr the three pilgrims popped into a church on the town of Anse, north of Lyon, to enjoy a “spiritual rest”.

But on that day a wedding was being celebrated in the church and the three pilgrims apparently decided to hang around and watch the service.

That raised a few concerns among members of the wedding party, some of whom were panicked enough to call in the police.

The confusion and panic appears to have stemmed from the pilgrims' choice of clothes. Rather than wearing the traditional hiking attire they were “dressed as apostles”, or in other words they were wearing cassocks.

It appears some presumed the pilgrims were wearing the traditional Muslim dress - the djellaba - and presumed the fact they were in church meant they must be Islamic radicals planning an attack.

The reality was of course very different.

“The individuals were not at all aggressive, quite the contrary,” a policeman told LyonCapitale.fr. “They said they were dressed as apostles and were making their way to Santiago de Compostela.

In the end the marriage went ahead as planned and the pilgrims were allowed to go on their way in peace.

Nevertheless the incident does highlight how the French public are on edge over the threat of terrorist attacks.

Following a student's botched attempt to gun down churchgoers in April the French PM Manuel Valls reiterated government warnings that the country was facing an "unprecedented terrorist threat" and said that 178 Catholic places of worship had already been placed "under specific protection".

He said also said authorities were mulling how to protect other places of Christian worship.

"Protection of religious sites will be guaranteed, said Valls on Thursday. "Christians and Catholics in France were targeted. They must be able to go to mass in perfect peace." 

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