France closes three mosques

People walk past a banner that reads "Muslims in mourning" as they leave the Reims mosque after the Friday prayer on Nov 27.
People walk past a banner that reads "Muslims in mourning" as they leave the Reims mosque after the Friday prayer on Nov 27.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS • The French government has shut down three mosques and four informal Muslim prayer rooms out of concern that they were contributing to Islamic radicalisation.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told the National Assembly on Wednesday that the action was necessary after the deadly terror attacks around Paris on Nov 13 by militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which left 130 people dead.

"There will be complete firmness against those that preach hatred in France," he said.

Two of the shuttered mosques are in the greater Paris region and one is in Lyon; four "clandestine" prayer rooms were closed in Nice. The closures are to last only as long as the national state of emergency does, Mr Cazeneuve said.

The focus on prayer rooms is relatively new. News media reports suggested that the police in several countries were giving closer scrutiny to such places, generally in storefronts or residences.

It was hard to tell from Mr Cazeneuve's comments how great a risk the three mosques were thought to present. The French authorities have detained or expelled imams or religious teachers for hate speech, but none connected with the closed mosques, said an Interior Ministry official.

However, when the police searched the homes of several people in leadership positions at one of the mosques, they reported finding a revolver, a hidden hard drive, documents about jihad and an undeclared Quranic school.

Politics were also at play. France is to hold regional elections this Sunday and next, and the Socialist government of President Francois Hollande faces a sharp challenge from right-leaning parties.

The crackdown on mosques appeared calculated to present Mr Hollande's government as tougher than that of his conservative predecessor, Mr Nicolas Sarkozy.

France, along with Germany, has also announced moves intended to choke off cash flowing to ISIS.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said on Wednesday that there will be immediate efforts to speed up a crackdown on money laundering. He said they would encourage the other 26 European Union nations to do the same when they meet next week.

Meanwhile, the European Commission adopted a package of measures to combat terrorism and arms trafficking on Wednesday, including criminalising travel "for terrorist purposes".

Thousands of people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, and countries are trying to beef up security measures to prevent attacks like the ones in Paris.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline 'France closes three mosques'. Print Edition | Subscribe