Lyon Muslim Cleric Hate


France stands firm on deportation of cleric

By Katrin Bennhold International Herald Tribune
TUESDAY, JULY 26, 2005

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy of France defended on Monday the deportation of an Algerian cleric as part of France's new zero-tolerance policy toward radical Muslim preachers following the London terror attacks.

Abdelhamid Aissaoui, 41, who was convicted for his role in an attempted terrorist attack 10 years ago and has preached occasionally in a mosque in Lyon, in central France, was returned to his home country on a French plane on Saturday.

He became the first of a dozen radical imams currently under observation by the French intelligence services to be expelled from France since Sarkozy pledged 10 days ago to clamp down on extremist preachers.

While cautiously welcomed by France's moderate Muslim organizations, in parts of the country's large Muslim community the new policy has sparked concerns that by targeting clerics it risks stigmatizing all practicing Muslims.

But Sarkozy on Monday stood firm.

"We will not keep people on our territory who issue calls to hatred, to violence and to the disrespect of our democratic values," the minister told reporters.

"They will leave the territory, and they will leave quickly. In this area, we don't intend to tolerate anything."

One week after the London bombs killed 56 people, including the bombers, Sarkozy announced a raft of antiterrorism measures. Among them are plans to install more closed-circuit television cameras in public areas and to keep both video and telephone records across the European Union in long-term archives. He has already tightened border controls.

But the centerpiece of the new policy appears to be a renewed effort to crack down on radical clerics, who are believed to be chiefly responsible for tempting young European-born Muslims into terrorist acts. At least six French nationals died in Iraq after joining insurgents there, Sarkozy has said.

The minister's strategy is two-pronged. He plans to accelerate deportations of imams seen to be inciting their audience to hatred and violence, and he wants to step up measures to improve training for imams in France.

Twenty mosques in France are run by extremists, according to France's domestic intelligence service, the Renseignements Généraux. Most of the Muslim clerics currently under surveillance are in Paris, Lyon and Marseille in southern France. Ten radical imams have been expelled since September 2002, according to France's chief of police.

Aissaoui served a four-year prison sentence in France after being convicted of providing logistical support to a terrorist cell planning to bomb a high-speed TGV train in 1995, an attack that was foiled. He was ordered to leave France after his sentence, but the intelligence services found that he had stayed in Lyon, where he was believed to replace the imam of a local mosque on occasion.

Aissaoui was arrested last Monday and expelled over the weekend after his request for asylum was formally rejected.

While France's Muslim organizations welcomed Sarkozy's support for training imams in France - a controversial issue in staunchly secular France - they also warned of branding religious Muslims as terrorist suspects in the public mind.

The Regional Council of the Muslim Faith in Lyon called on politicians "to show more restraint."

"We can't accept that in the name of fighting terrorism, a whole section of French society is stigmatized," one member of the regional council told Agence France-Presse.