From assaults to graffiti, French Muslims take hit after attacks

A French soldier stands guard in front of the Grande Mosque, on Nov 20, 2015 in Strasbourg, eastern France, during the Friday prayer.
A French soldier stands guard in front of the Grande Mosque, on Nov 20, 2015 in Strasbourg, eastern France, during the Friday prayer. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Anti-Muslim incidents including attacks on women and hateful graffiti have flared up across France in the week since Islamist militants killed 130 people in Paris on Nov 13, two monitoring groups said on Friday.

The National Observatory of Islamophobia, a group linked to France's official Muslim council, reported 32 anti-Muslim incidents during the week. It normally registers four to five complaints by aggrieved Muslims in a week, its head Abdallah Zekri said.

The Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), an independent organisation, said it had tracked 29 incidents.

The Observatory registered 178 anti-Muslim incidents in January, a month marked by the Islamist militant attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket.

France's five million-strong Muslim minority is Europe's largest and makes up about eight per cent of the population.

Zekri said he expected more incidents in coming weeks because last week's attacks had encouraged "ultra-nationalist groups, the extreme right and racists" to target Muslims. "They take advantage of this atmosphere to lash out," he said.

CCIF's spokesman Yasser Louati said his office was inundated with reports and complaints from Muslims as well as calls asking for advice on whether it was safe to send children to school. "Muslims have become the enemy within," Louati said, adding that media attention to the incidents was uneven.

For example, a man punched a young veiled woman in Marseille on Wednesday and slashed her clothes with a box cutter, calling her a terrorist, in an incident that was widely publicised.

But another veiled woman who was rammed by a shopping cart and kicked by an assailant inside a grocery store in a suburb of Lyon the same day did not make the national news, he said.

One day after the Paris attacks, six protesters broke off from an anti-migrant rally in Pontivy, a town in Brittany in northwestern France, to beat up a passing young man of North African origin, he said.

Louati mentioned another incident last Sunday morning in which a Turkish man standing near a kebab restaurant in Cambrai in northern France was reported shot in the back from a car flying a French flag, though his injuries were not serious. "They're looking for brown people," he said.

Anti-Muslim graffiti has also shown up in many places. In Evreux in northern France, the town hall and other buildings were daubed with graffiti saying "Death to Muslims" and "(with a) suitcase or (in a) coffin" - a reference to how the protesters wanted Muslims to leave town.

There were several reports of swastikas painted on outer walls of mosques, in the Paris area and in Pontarlier near the Swiss border. Social media also lit up with anti-Muslim and racist comments once Friday's attacks became known.

A state of emergency imposed in France after the Paris attacks has led to increased complaints of police brutality as officers raid homes to inspect them and put people under house arrest, Louati said.

From Nice near the Italian border came a complaint that police had injured a small girl sleeping in an apartment they raided on Thursday, he said.

A raid on a mosque in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers left holes in the ceiling, windows and doors broken and holy books strewn on the floor, according to mosque officials.

The National Police declined to comment, directing inquiries to the Interior Ministry, which did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.