France set to deport hard-line imams
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has said that a handful of radical imams will be expelled from the country in the coming days as part of ongoing efforts to deport foreign-born preachers who "refer to the need to fight against France".
Several hard-line Muslim preachers will be forced to leave France in the coming days, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said on Tuesday. Speaking from Brussels, where he was attending an international conference on extremist movements, Valls said the move was part of an effort to check “global jihad”.
“Many radical foreign-born preachers will be deported in the coming days,” Valls told reporters, adding that it was important to draw a clear distinction between mainstream Muslims and extremists.
“I am not mistaking this radical Islam for French Islam, but a certain religious environment exists, there are groups that identify themselves as Salafists,” the interior minister said.
“They are attempting to co-opt organisations, school practices, basically, to brainwash a certain number of families,” he added.
Valls warned: “We will expel all these imams, all these foreign-born preachers who target women, make remarks contrary to our values and refer to the need to fight against France.”
Heightened threat level
It was not the first time that the interior minister put hard-line imams on alert. In a speech given at the inauguration of the Grand Mosque of Strasbourg, in northeastern France, Valls said he would not hesitate to deport “those who speak in the name of Islam and represent a threat to public order.”
Unnamed Interior Ministry sources told the AFP news agency that the upcoming deportations involved three people, including an imam from Seine-Saint-Denis, a suburb of the French capital with a large immigrant population.
The cleric in question is said to regularly make homophobic remarks, the source said.
Valls’ comments came amid heightened concerns over potential terrorist attacks. On January 12 Paris raised its terrorist threat level, known as the Vigipirate system, a day after the French military launched an offensive to rout Islamist rebels from northern Mali.
"We must be extremely vigilant,” Valls said on Tuesday, “and I will be.”
More than 100 deportations in 10 years
While Valls stepped up his rhetoric, the interior minister was continuing a years-old government effort to expel religious extremists from the territory.
Since 2002, at least 125 deportation orders have been filed against radical Islamists, according to a government source cited by AFP.
Under French law, foreigners can be deported if they are believed to pose a serious threat to public order.
Mohammed Hammami, a Tunisian, was the last imam to be expelled from France, in October 2012. A preacher at the Omar Mosque in Paris, Hammami was deported for allegedly defending “violent jihad”, violence against women and anti-Semitism.