French national security authorities are increasingly concerned at the rate at which Salafism is gaining ground throughout the country. A recent report by the SCRT (Central Territorial Intelligence Service) points to “a reading of Islam that is incompatible with the values of the French Republic.”
Not only is this radical strain of Islam considered to be a portal for terrorism, but the borderline between it and moderate Islam is a thin one. Many Salafists condemn democracy, gender equality, music and poetry. While still a minority movement (law enforcement specialists estimate that 5% of French Muslims frequent radical mosques) it is seeing an alarming upturn. Since its arrival in France in the 1990s, it has grown rapidly from an estimated 5,000 followers in 2004 to 12,000 in 2010 and 50,000 in 2018. These figures do not include those who do not attend places of worship but pray at home instead.
Intelligence agents have observed a strong correlation between areas characterized by fundamentalism and those plagued by crime, especially drug-dealing.
Corsica is the only region of France not affected by the phenomenon. The SCRT report indicates that places of worship are often located in apartments, houses, disused commercial premises, gymnasiums, garages and basements. In some cases, due to lack of space, worshippers pray on adjacent streets, blocking traffic and causing security problems.
The report also reveals how Salafists take control of legacy mosques by challenging how they are run, calling the incumbent imam into question and proselytizing worshippers. “These destabilizing manoeuvres enable the Salafists to take over the places of worship when the governing boards come up for re-election” the report states, citing cases of mosques in Bollène, Beaucaire and Toulon.
The Salafist ideology is then disseminated in sermons delivered by the movement’s imams.
In Ecquevilly, unveiled women were compared to whores devoid of modesty who satisfy “the lust of wolves.”
In Brest, children were warned they will be transformed into monkeys or pigs if they listen to music. Social media is also used to indoctrinate children.
In a religious class broadcast on YouTube the imam of the Sunni mosque in Brest asks the children “to whom should you not bid good morning?”
The children respond in unison “to the non-believers.”
Since the terror attacks that began in France in 2015, the authorities have closed down 20 of 140 known Salafist mosques but this does not appear to be effective in stemming the tide that is sweeping across the country.
The concerns of the intelligence community are corroborated by figures released by the CAT (Centre for the Analysis of Terrorism). As of 15 May 2018, the prosecuting authority was handling 513 cases involving 1,620 individuals linked to jihadism, while the total number of people flagged for links to terrorism was 20,000.
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