Why Muslims in France feel vulnerable – Paris’ suburb speaks up

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SHAFAQNA – On a housing estate in Lucé about 100 metres from the local mosque, three young men of Arab appearance and an older white woman were chatting. “It was a guy called Omar Ismail Mostefai,” said one of the men.

Mostefai was the first of the Paris attackers to be identified after investigators found part of his thumb amid the carnage of the Bataclan theatre. Born in the town of Courcouronnes, to the south of the capital, until two years ago he had been a worshipper at the mosque in Lucé, a down-market suburb in the town of Chartres. After that point, he is said by local people to have disappeared.

Officials at the mosque have said that they now fear for what comes next for France’s Muslim community. The French President, François Hollande, has already described the attacks as an “act of war”. For those in Lucé, the fear is that the war may be coming to them.

“What he did was not part of Islam,” said Ismail Snussi, an official at the mosque who was helping worshippers into the building. “Our true religion really is one of peace and co-existence, but now I’m fearful for what comes next. We’re concerned about a crackdown, from the state, the police, and the press. We may become the focus of people’s anger.”

There is no suggestion that Mostefai was radicalised in Lucé mosque, or that the local community shares his warped view of their religion. The down-at-heel suburb is full of high-rise blocks of flats; at the end of the road small groups of young men smoke and chat. It is the sort of place where there is nothing else to do.

In the hours after the attacks, leaders from France’s Muslim communities spoke about the possibility of a “tsunami of hatred” being directed them. Nadir Kahia of the Muslim Banlieue Plus community association, said, “We know some Muslims and poor neighbourhoods” will be subjected to retribution.

It is what Ismail Snussi fears. “I think the days that follow could be very difficult for us,” he said.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse, the iman of the Lucé mosque, Abdallah Benali, said that news of Mostefai’s actions was a disaster for his community. “We do our best to make sure our mosque remains clean; individuals who do not respect the rules are thrown out.” He also denied the mosque played any part in turning Mostefai into a killer.

The mosque works with local officials to stamp out radicalism, said Karim Benayat, another official. “We work with the mayor, the prefect. We work within the rules; we respect the laws of the Republic.” Mr Benayat said that he had not seen the French bomber since 2013.

Mostefai did not live in Lucé itself. Until 2012, he lived in the middle of Chartres, an upmarket commuter town.

By the station, the Kebab Express, a Turkish restaurant was almost full of lunch-time customers. Bovis, a Turk who came to live in Chartres 10 years ago, argued that it is the Muslim community that must stand up to the radicals. He declined to give his surname.

“I am Turkish, and I am Muslim, but I am also French,” he said. “I hated the Daesh [the Arabic name for Isis] as much as anyone else – they do not speak for me. I would be the first to line up to kill them all for what they have done.”

He also says that secular France should hold no fear of moderates such as himself. “Yes, there may be a backlash against the Muslim community, but I doubt it,” he says. “After Charlie Hebdo there was no reaction against us. I don’t see why there will be now.”

Terror gang: Eight killers

The Paris attacks are believed to have involved eight terrorists, one still on the run.

The first gunman to be named was Omar Ismail Mostefai, 29. Identified by one of his fingers, found among the rubble of the Bataclan theatre, he is thought to have been one of three men who blew themselves up.

Having grown up in the poor Paris suburb of Courcouronnes, Mostefai had eight convictions for petty crimes, but had never been jailed. The Paris prosecutor François Molins said Mostefai had been singled out for radicalisation in 2010 but before Friday he had “never been implicated in an investigation or a terrorist association”. Investigators are now said to be trying to establish whether he took a trip to Syria last year.

Six people linked to Mostefai are being questioned by police, including his father, brother and sister-in-law.

The police have issued an arrest warrant for Belgian-born Abdeslam Salah, warning: “This individual is dangerous. Do not interact with him.” Salah’s brother, Ibrahim Salah, died during the attacks, possibly as a suicide bomber. There were reports that a third brother, who has not been named, was among seven people arrested on 14 November in the Molenbeek-Saint-Jean district of Brussels.

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