French Muslims march to protest murder of police couple

Thousand of Muslims marched in the French town of Mantes-la-Jolie on Sunday to protest the recent killing of a local police chief and his wife by a man who had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group.

Eliot Blondet, AFP | Thousands of French Muslims march in Mantes-la-Jolie, near Paris, on June 19, 2016 in a show of solidarity with a local police couple murdered in a knife attack.

Between 2,500 to 5,000 people took part in the solemn procession 50km west of Paris, which was organised by local mosques and Muslim groups.

Demonstrators carried a large banner denouncing the “barbaric” act and lifted a photo of a smiling Jean-Baptiste Salvaing and Jessica Schneider, who were murdered at their home in the nearby town of Magnanville on June 13.

“This was a crime, not by a religious man or an ideologist, but of the stupidest kind,” Abdelaziz El Jaouhari, president of the Mantes-la-Ville mosque, told reporters on the sidelines of the march. “The politicians alone do not have the solutions, and neither does the Muslim community, but together maybe we can bring an end to this vicious cycle.”

Salvaing, 42, and Schneider, 36, were stabbed to death by a 25-year-old man who later used their computer to broadcast a video on Facebook in which he professed allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group. The self-styled jihadist was killed in a police raid at the scene.

The couple's three-year-old son was found alive inside the family home.

Organisers called on Muslims to join Sunday’s march by handing out flyers after Friday mosque prayers and via text messages in recent days. “Our call was directed at ordinary people, not authorities,” said mosque rector Mehdi Berka.

“This march is to say that the Muslim community has no responsibility for crimes and barbarism committed by terrorism, but that it has the right and the responsibility to condemn those actions,” Berka added.

Shared fears

France’s Muslim community has been criticised by some people for not speaking out more forcefully against terrorism committed in the name of Islam, and previous attempts by Muslim leaders to rally members of the faith have disappointed.

In April 2012, the imam of the city of Drancy, imam Hassen Chalgoumi, called on Muslims to protest the slaying of French soldiers and Jewish schoolchildren by French jihadist Mohammed Merah. Only around 200 people showed up to the event at Place de la Bastille in central Paris.

Sunday’s march in Mantes-la-Jolie, was noted in the French media for its large showing as Muslims marked the holy month of Ramadan.

“By coming here, we are showing that we are all united against terrorists, these monsters that are so determined to shed blood,” said Imane Remina, 18.

Mohammed Bouaalal, a 34-year-old shopkeeper brought his two young daughters to the rally. “If it still has to be explained, we are here to say that Islam and French Muslims have absolutely nothing to do with these criminals,” he said.

At the end of the march, representatives of the Muslim community, including boy scouts, laid a wreath for the two murdered officers in front of the police station where the pair worked.

Some admitted they were fearful of following the demonstration until its endpoint. “Deep inside, I was afraid of a new terrorist attack,” a woman told daily newspaper Le Monde.

She had forced her reluctant husband to come with her to the protest, but had allowed her son to stay home. “He was afraid of being photographed, of being recognised by others and then having problems,” the woman said.

Other people in the crowd expressed similar concerns. “Today they are targeting police officers, tomorrow they’ll start coming after us (Muslims), like they’re doing in Egypt and Yemen,” the shopkeeper Bouaalal said.

He added: “In their eyes we are traitors, because we do not have the same vision of the world.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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