France begins cracking down on radical imams

1st August 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 31 (AFP) - Less than a month after the deadly suicide attacks in London, French authorities have started cracking down on radical imams, who are accused of inciting young Muslims to violence.

PARIS, July 31 (AFP) - Less than a month after the deadly suicide attacks in London, French authorities have started cracking down on radical imams, who are accused of inciting young Muslims to violence.

France's tough-talking interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, has launched a series of measures he says will show "zero tolerance" for Muslim clerics who preach violence and recruit young men for jihad, or holy war.

In just a week, two imams out of about a dozen threatened with either expulsion or losing their French nationality were sent back to Algeria.

Reda Ameuroud, 35, an imam expelled on Friday, was arrested more than two weeks ago in what authorities called "a preventive anti-terror operation" in a Paris neighbourhood that is home to a mosque known for attracting radicals.

Another Algerian, Abdelhamid Aissaoui, 41, was banished from France on July 23.

He was an "occasional imam", who had been sentenced to four years in prison for participating in an attempted attack in 1995 on a high-speed train near Lyon, organized by Algeria's Armed Islamic Group (GIA).

French authorities have zeroed in on a dozen imams, most of them from North Africa but also some from Turkey, who are preaching in and around cities with large immigrant populations like Paris, Lyon and Marseille.

They are also monitoring about a dozen other people deemed potentially dangerous due to the content of their speeches.

France has less than 1,000 imams and officials point out that the vast majority of them do not pose any problem.

About half of the imams preach regularly, while 320 only lead Friday prayers, and 150 are occasional preachers. Thirty percent of French imams are Moroccans, 20 percent Algerians and another 20 percent are French, with Turks accounting for about 15 percent.

Of the 1,500 or so Muslim places of worship in France, less than 40 are under the influence of hardline radicals, with their preaching extending from "'classic fundamentalism' to more violent ideas", police officials said.

The self-proclaimed, or "occasional", imams often do not have any training and only a cursory knowledge of the Koran, Islam's holy book.

Despite a lack of scholarship, these preachers can exercise influence over youths from disadvantaged neighbourhoods looking for some sort of identity.

"The title of imam has been tarnished, it is often usurped," said Dalil Boubakeur, the moderate president of the French Council of the Muslim Religion, the first recognized national organization for France's estimated five million Muslims.

"Sometimes all that's needed is a djellaba and a turban to pass for an Islamic sheikh."

The French crackdown on imams is cause for concern in immigrant communities, which were rattled 18 months ago by the adoption of a French law that barred religious insignia -- notably, the Muslim headscarf -- from state schools.

"We are not killers -- immigrants are human beings, not cockroaches," said one Frenchman of Egyptian origin near the Paris mosque where Ameuroud preached.

"Being Muslim, is that a crime? If he has not killed anyone, I don't see why he should be expelled," added a customer at a cafe nearby.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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