New start for Paris mosque shut down after teacher’s murder

A Paris mosque that became a focal point in the controversy over the place of Islam in France reopened on Friday after a six-month closure following a clampdown on Islamist radicals sparked by the beheading of a teacher last October.

New start for Paris mosque shut down after teacher's murder
Muslim worshippers arrive for the Friday prayers at the Grande Mosque de Pantin, a northern Paris suburb, on April 9th as the mosque reopened. Photo: Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Some 200 worshippers returned for Friday prayers at the 1,300 person capacity mosque in Pantin on the northern outskirts of Paris, an AFP correspondent said.

Samuel Paty, 47, was attacked on his way home from a junior high school northwest of the capital where he taught history and geography, after showing his pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

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French police launched a series of raids targeting Islamist networks mainly in the Paris region after Paty’s gruesome murder and ordered the shutdown of the Pantin mosque, which has some 1,500 worshippers.

Muslim worshippers pray in the courtyard of the Grande Mosque de Pantin on Friday. Photo: Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

The mosque in the densely-populated Seine-Saint-Denis suburb northeast of Paris had shared a video on its Facebook page, days before Paty’s death, railing against the teacher’s choice of material for a class discussion on freedom of expression.

A fierce online campaign against Paty and the school preceded the murder, led by the father of a schoolgirl who accused the teacher of disseminating “pornography” for showing a cartoon of the Prophet naked.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin conditioned the mosque’s reopening on the departure of both the director and the Imam.

READ ALSO: ‘We are French’: Muslims in France ‘are not persecuted’ but fear being stigmatised once more

The Imam, who trained in Yemen and is suspected of being close to a radical Islamist movement, quickly resigned following Paty’s murder.

After initially refusing to step down, director M’hammed Henniche ended up agreeing so that a million-euro building project intended to replace the current mosque might go ahead.

Henniche – a 50-year-old entrepreneur who has rubbed shoulders with high-profile politicians including former French president Nicolas Sarkozy – called sharing the video “a blunder” and apologised.

He has not been the target of any legal proceedings.

“It is an injustice repaired, there is only joy”, Ismael Toure, a volunteer at the mosque, told AFP.

“The closing of our mosque was just to make an example. Otherwise what did the Pantin mosque have to do with the teacher’s murder?” he asked.

France’s parliament is examining draft legislation to battle Islamist extremism which includes expanding motives for closing places of worship. In early March Darmanin said 89 mosques were due to be inspected.

“It’s a good thing that the mosque can reopen. The director made an inexcusable mistake in sharing this video. But punishing all the worshippers was unfair,” said the Socialist local mayor Bertrand Kern.

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