France inspects dozens of mosques, many could face closure

French authorities have started the inspection of mosques believed to be fomenting Islamist fervour and encouraging “separatism” and Islamic extremism.

Announcing the crackdown, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, said some mosques could be closed if found to be “breeding grounds of terrorism” and encouraging “separatism”.

The move comes after the French authorities closed a well-known mosque in the northeastern suburbs of Paris for six months in October, as part of their clampdown on Islamist groups and suspected extremists after recent terrorists attacks, including the horrific beheading of a school teacher, Samuel Paty, by a Chechen refugee.

The mosque, which had about 1,500 worshippers, had posted a Facebook video about Paty days before the 47-year-old history and geography teacher was decapitated in October.

The video violently criticised Paty’s decision to show his class, after giving Muslim students the chance to leave if they felt uncomfortable, two caricatures of the prophet Muhammad alongside other cartoons as part of a class discussion on freedom of speech.

After the killing of Paty, President Emmanuel Macron said France was engaged in an “existential” battle against Islamist fundamentalism.

Two weeks after Paty’s beheading, three people were stabbed to death in a knife attack inside a cathedral in Nice, France.

One of the victims was partially beheaded.

Darmanin said on Wednesday that the recent crackdown on the mosques was “a massive and unprecedented action against separatism”.

“In the coming days, these places of worship suspected of separatism will be inspected. Those that should be closed, will be,” the Minister added.

Macron is under constant pressure to come up with an effective response to the latest in a series of Islamist terror attacks that have rocked France since the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre, in which two brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, forced their way into the magazine’s office and killed 12 people for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

More than 240 people have died from Islamist violence since 2015, prompting opposition politicians, particularly on the right, to accuse the government of waging a battle of words rather than taking decisive action.