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Mosque arson attack raises fears while French PM threatens freedom of worship

26th Aug 2016
Mosque arson attack raises fears while French PM threatens freedom of worship

Mohammad Mahdi Karim

Alarms have been raised as the fears of anti-Muslim attacks in France have intensified in the wake of an arson attack on a mosque, located in Muret, a suburb of the French town Toulouse.

In a call for unity, the French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, claimed the extremists were trying to “set the French people against each other and attack religion in order to start a war of religions.”

However, the socialist French leader warned that, “if Islam doesn’t help the Republic to fight those who challenge public freedoms, it will get harder for the Republic to guarantee this freedom of worship.”

Police opened an ‘arson inquiry’ after French firefighters battled a blaze that was instigated with feverous Islamophobic sentiments following the brutal murder of the elderly priest by two teenagers.

The fire was started in the early hours of the morning at the construction site of the mosque, and the attacks appeared to be deliberate according to local French police. “Elements let us imagine that the fire can be deliberate,” the prosecutor Pierre-Yves Couilleau told the French newspaper Le Parisian on July 27. No one was hurt.

The project was due to be completed by 2017. The roofs and doors were damaged as police saw traces of burglary around the area. Christophe Borgel, MP of Haute-Garonne “strongly condemned the crime against a Muslim place of worship” and assured the leaders of the mosque “all his solidarity”.

The fire came a week after Father Jacques Hamel was murdered allegedly by Daesh extremists. The Normandy town of Saint Etienne du Rouvray was in shock following the murder of the elderly priest who ‘was selfless and generous.’

Hundreds gathered at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray’s Yahia Mosque, including three Catholic priests, for a minute’s silence to honour slain priest Jacques Hamel. Strong bonds already existed in this small community. The Catholic Church donated the land on which the Yahia Mosque stands. The new priest in charge of the parish Father Auguste Moanda told worshippers to strengthen those bonds.

Francois Clavairoly, head of the French Protestant Federation, who held talks with President Hollande and other religious leaders said: “It is obvious that posting security outside every place of worship in this country is absolutely inconceivable.”

France’s Government has been lobbied by the centre-Right Republicans to up security by calling for more extremists to be detained following the attacks in France. The socialist Government has also been criticised for failing to act on its intelligence with reports that the missing suspect of the Normandy church attacks was notified as a threat the previous week.

The centre of attention has now come to helping the 2,200 mosques and 54,000 churches in France keep safe. Security has been notably increased at the Basilica of Saint-Denis, a church situated next to Muslim estates in Northern Paris, is where many former French Monarchs are buried.

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population with more than 5 million in a population of around 66 million.

Dalil Boubakeur, the leader of the Grand Mosque in Paris, said the attack was a “blasphemous sacrilege which goes against all the teachings of our religion”.

This was the second time that the same mosque was set ablaze following a previous suspected arson attack in 2012. Mosques have long been the targets of many attacks following the fatal attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in January of 2015. In response to the attacks 3,000 places of worship including synagogues, churches and mosques increased security.

Since then hate crimes have tripled with over 400 reports of attacks, criminal damage and harassment in 2015.

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