France detains two over failed break-in at imam's home

29th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

French police detained two people after they tried to break into the home of an Islamic cleric who is in favour of anti-burqa legislation, officials said Monday.

Two police officers in charge of VIP protection thwarted the burglary on Saturday, said Farid Hannache, the spokesman for Hassan Chalghoumi, an imam in the Paris suburb of Drancy.

Chalghoumi has been under protection since the end of January, he added.

The interior ministry would not confirm this.

Hannache told AFP two members of the radical pro-Palestinian Sheikh Yassin movement were involved in the Drancy break-in. The pair were arrested and taken into custody at Bobigny, a nearby Paris suburb.

The Drancy mosque was the scene of fierce tensions between the Muslim al-Nour association headed by Chalghoumi and the Sheikh Yassin group early this year after the imam came out in favour of proposed French legislation banning the full Muslim veil.

His opponents accuse him of being close to the French interior ministry, and a council representing French Jews as well as "distorting" Islam.

Chalghoumi has the support of Drancy mayor Jean-Christophe Lagarde who decided in 2006 to open a mosque in the suburb.

The incident came just days before French lawmakers begin to debate a government proposal on July 6 to ban the full-face veil from public spaces.

The lower house National Assembly will read the bill before it passes to the Senate in September and it could be adopted into law soon after.

The bill by President Nicolas Sarkozy's government proposes to ban anyone in France from wearing a garment "designed to hide the face" -- a move interpreted as targeting Muslim women who wear veils such as the niqab or burqa.

Those who break the law would be fined 150 euros (180 dollars) or sent on a course to learn the values of French citizenship.

Anyone who forces someone to cover her face because of her sex would be jailed for a year and fined 15,000 euros.

While Sarkozy's right-wing majority is expected to be able to push the law through parliament, constitutional experts have warned that it could be thrown out by judges and might fall foul of European law.

Opponents of the ban point to official figures that estimate that only 2,000 members of France's approximately five-million-strong Muslim population wear the full-face veil.

© 2010 AFP

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