“In Trappes the French Republic no longer exists. This is a town ruled by Islamists, jihadists, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists.”
MP Alain Marsaud, a former anti-terrorist investigating magistrate, made this claim in July 2016. Benoît Hamon, former municipal councillor of Trappes and Socialist Party candidate for the 2017 presidential election, dismissed Marsaud’s assertions as “lies and slander” not backed up by facts.
Yet, an official report submitted to Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas describes Trappes as a town that is out of control and the region of Yvelines (where Trappes is located) as the cradle of Islamic radicalism in France as far back as the 1980s.
“The real problem is the battle against generalized radicalization and religious separatism, which are gradually spreading throughout France. Their development in the town of Trappes is a major source of concern,” the report stated.
Trappes, located 18 miles west of Paris, has a population of 31,000 composed of 50 nationalities of which more than 50 percent are under the age of 30.
According to the report, “Muslims make up between 60% and 70% of the population and, over the years, an active militancy has taken hold, manifested in a non-violent conquest of public spaces and certain institutions.”
The first Islamic library and junior high school were founded in the constituency and demonstrations of solidarity with radical networks and organizations are not uncommon.
The majority of stores in Trappes have a religious orientation. There are 10 halal butcher shops but no traditional French ones. Kebab joints, some of which are controlled by the Islamist movement, serve as gathering places. Trappes has one church, one synagogue and five mosques, one of which is run by the Turkish government.
The report describes the Grand Mosque of Trappes as being in a state of “ongoing radicalization” since 2003. It is frequented by extremists, who have extended their influence through faith-based community organizations and activities. Foreign preachers are regularly hosted and the basement is being transformed into a prayer-room for women.
In the streets of Trappes, long beards and Islamic clothing are common. Between April 2011 and April 2016, 53 fines were imposed on women for wearing the niqab or burka, which have been banned since 2010. A further 27 residents of Trappes were fined in other locations.
Repeat offences are frequent, the most notable being the case of Cassandra Belin, whose arrest in July 2013 provoked three days of rioting including mortar attacks on the local police station. These were the first religious riots in France since the Camisard (Protestant peasants) revolt of 1702-1704.
Trappes has since become a magnet for Muslim fundamentalists.
The report states that in Trappes, “local community organizations are strongly marked by religious separatism.” There are over 100 such organizations, the main one being the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines Islamic Centre, set up by the UMT (Union of Muslims of Trappes).
This umbrella organization controls several schools teaching the Quran, Arabic and Islamic doctrine as well as providing learning support and leisure activities. The UMT is run like a business, with a budget of several hundred thousand euros. Over 500 people, including children, attend classes in Quranic studies and Arabic. It has also set up Islamic undertakers and a medical clinic.
Declarations of home schooling are increasing and, while clandestine schools have not yet been identified, community organizations are meeting the demand for Islamic education. One of these, the IFSQY (Educational Institute of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines) is run by former UMT president Slimane Boussana, who has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Legal opposition by the Versailles attorney-general to the schools failed due to obsolete legislation and a second private Muslim school opened in September 2015.
Trappes is also considered by the authors of the report as a bastion of jihad. “As for extremist terrorism in Trappes, it does not appear to be highly structured but rather takes the form of a small nebula.”
Around 50 jihadists have left Trappes to fight in Syria of which 11 have been killed, including a city hall employee. A group of four youths who were radicalized at the Chicken Planet kebab joint were the first to attempt to travel to Syria following the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack. Others were linked to the network that carried out attacks in Paris and Brussels.
Religious separatism has crossed over into politics, where the Islamic vote now carries considerable weight. In 2014, Hamon signed a parliamentary bill for the recognition by France of the state of Palestine and justified this by saying that it was “the best way to attract voters in the suburbs and housing projects who have not understood the pro-Israeli policy of François Hollande.”
Hamon also favors granting voting rights to foreigners, hoping thereby to increase his score at the polls. Marsaud accuses local politicians of pandering to the Muslim vote.
“The Salafists have taken power in Trappes. The Socialist Party administration has bartered enforcement of France’s secular principles for civil peace,” he said.
The transformation of Trappes from a working-class suburb designed by urban planners in the 1970s to a hotbed of Islamic radicalism is probably irreversible and is being replicated in many other urban areas throughout France.
The greatest challenge facing French policymakers in the coming years and decades will be how to manage them.
Leslie Shaw is an Associate Professor at the Paris campus of ESCP Europe Business School and President of FIRM (Forum on Islamic Radicalism and Management).