Panic grips France’s Muslim community as mosques face reprisals

French Muslims are bracing for a backlash after terrorists shouting Islamist slogans killed 12 people in Paris on Wednesday.

Community leaders are urging Muslims to remain vigilant and calm as fears of reprisals grow following the massacre at the offices of a satirical magazine. The leaders asked their community to avoid provoking other French people and to join the protests against the attack. They advised veiled women to avoid going out alone.

“Panic is spreading,” said Henniche M’hammed, spokesperson for UAM 93, an Islamic community group based in Seine-Saint-Denis, a working-class suburb of Paris. “More and more Muslims are asking, ‘what happens next?’ »

The sense of intimidation has been fueled since Wednesday by attacks on religious buildings and threatening rhetoric from National Front leader Marine Le Pen that blames immigrants for many of France’s woes. The country’s main Islamic groups gathered at the main mosque in Paris on Thursday and called on Muslims to observe a minute of silence and on religious leaders to condemn the killings.

“The best message we can give against these terrorists is to show that the French are united, that we will not fall into their trap of playing against each other,” said Mohammed Moussaoui, former president of the French Muslim Council, on BFM. Television Thursday. “We must show our unity to fight our enemies, those barbarians who twist our religion to justify violence.”

France is home to the largest Islamic community in Europe, of around 5 million people, and their numbers have grown with the children and grandchildren of those who arrived from the country’s former colonies in North Africa during the 20th century. century.

M’hammed said the pressure was mounting since journalist Eric Zemmour predicted in October that the growth of the Muslim community would eventually lead to civil war in France and raised the prospect of deportation of immigrants. Zemmour’s latest book, in which he argues that immigration has cost the country its sovereignty, has sold nearly 500,000 copies.

Le Pen rode this wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to become one of France’s most popular politicians. Today she called for a referendum on the return of the death penalty, banned in France since 1981, and asked President François Hollande to approve tougher measures to fight against Islamic fundamentalism.

Last month, a court in Fréjus ruled in favor of local Muslims after the city’s National Front mayor blocked the construction of a mosque.

M’hammed’s group is receiving reports of increasingly frequent attacks, he said. Women were insulted or had their veils pulled while pork was thrown into mosques. The district, on the northeastern outskirts of Paris, is home to a large Muslim community and was hit by the country’s worst riots in 2005.

“What just happened could make the French even more receptive to poisonous ideas,” Hanan Ben Rhouma, a journalist with the Islamic news site Saphirnews, told Liberation newspaper. “I’m afraid people are jumping to simplistic conclusions.”

In Le Man, western France, a shot was fired at the local mosque and four non-lethal hand grenades, usually used in military exercises, were thrown into its courtyard, Hervé said by telephone. Brevard, assistant city court prosecutor. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack and an investigation is ongoing, he said.

A mosque was the target of fire in southern France, reported, while another in Poitiers was plastered with graffiti saying “death to Arabs”, Ouest France said. A sandwich shop near the mosque in Villefranche-sur-Saône, near Lyon, was hit by an explosion, according to Agence France Presse.

“It seems linked to the dramatic situation” in Paris, the mayor told AFP.

France is on high terror alert as police track down two men suspected of carrying out Wednesday’s attack, in which assailants opened fire in Charlie Hebdo’s newsroom with automatic weapons. In addition, a policewoman was shot dead Thursday in a town south of Paris.

“Muslims feel the pressure in their lives every day and it’s been building up for weeks,” M’hammed said. “Today’s attack on a mosque is not an isolated incident.”

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