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RELIGION

Lourdes: How pickpocket gangs target tourists at France’s religious shrine

Pilgrims to the holy town of Lourdes in southern France, lulled into carelessness by the promise of heavenly protection, are increasingly falling victim to pickpockets, local authorities say.

Lourdes: How pickpocket gangs target tourists at France's religious shrine
Pilgrims in Lourdes are easy picking for thieves, say local authorities. Photo: AFP

Thefts have more than doubled as organised gangs turned their attention to the town, attracted by the easy pickings there.

“Many people think that when they arrive in Lourdes nothing can happen, leaving their handbags open wider than they would have in Paris,” said Philippe Subercaze, a city councillor in charge of security.

READ ALSO Paris Metro pickpocketing gang jailed for a total of 113 years

“In Lourdes, they think the Virgin will protect them and that nothing will happen to them.”

Lourdes is one of the most revered sites for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics because it is said to be where the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl in a grotto in 1858.

The town, with a population of about 14,000, attracted more than 770,000 visitors last year. Most came from Italy, Spain, Britain and Ireland.

Local prosecutor Pierre Aurignac told AFP there has been a “statistical explosion” of pickpocketing incidents — from 117 in the first nine months of last year to 274 so far in 2019.

“It is cash they are after.”

Most of the thefts happened in the town centre in the shop-lined roads near the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, an area surrounding a shrine.

READ ALSO 14 simple ways to avoid Paris pickpockets and petty thieves

The municipality has put up about 50 video cameras since last year, adding to those the Sanctuary itself has installed.

“These are very organised professionals,” Subercaze said of the pickpockets. “They arrive in waves and change all the time. As soon as one is identified or arrested, they are replaced. It is a game of cat and mouse.”

Slowly but surely, the pilgrims are wising up.

“A couple had their things stolen a few days ago, so now I take more care,” said Anna Maria, who came to Lourdes from Naples, Italy.

“I keep my bag pressed close to my body.”

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POLITICS

French minster orders closure of Cannes mosque over anti-Semitic remarks

France's interior minister said on Wednesday he had ordered the closure of a mosque on the French Riviera because of anti-Semitic remarks made there.

The French riviera town of Cannes
The French riviera town of Cannes. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

Gerald Darmanin said the mosque in the seaside city of Cannes was also guilty of supporting CCIF and BarakaCity, two associations that the government dissolved at the end of last year for spreading “Islamist” propaganda.

Darmanin told broadcaster CNews that he had consulted with the mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, before shutting down the mosque.

The move comes two weeks after authorities closed a mosque in the north of the country because of what they said was the radical nature of its imam’s preaching.

The mosque in Beauvais, a town of 50,000 people some 100 kilometres north of Paris, was shut for six months because the sermons there incited hatred and violence and “defend jihad”, authorities said.

Last October, a mosque in Allonnes, 200 kilometres west of Paris, was closed also for six months for sermons defending armed jihad and “terrorism”, according to regional authorities.

The French government announced last year that it would step up checks of places of worship and associations suspected of spreading radical Islamic propaganda.

The crackdown came after the October 2020 murder of teacher Samuel Paty, who was targeted following an online campaign against him for having shown controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a civics class.

In the interview on Wednesday, the interior minister said that 70 mosques in France were considered to be “radicalised”.

According to the ministry, there are a total of 2,623 mosques and Muslim prayer halls in the country.

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