An administrative court has validated the Interior Ministry’s decision to close the Grand Mosque of Pantin near Paris for a period of six months after it was found to have shared a video criticising a French history teacher which led to his murder.
France ordered the temporary closure of the mosque last Tuesday as part of a crackdown on people suspected of inciting hatred, after teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded for showing his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
The administrative court of Montreuil, east of Paris, considered that the authorities had committed no “serious and manifestly illegal violation of fundamental freedoms” in temporarily closing the mosque “for the sole purpose of preventing such acts of terrorism”.
French authorities accuse the mosque of sharing a video on its Facebook page on 9 October, in which the Muslim father of one of Paty’s students vented hatred, calling him a thug and saying he wanted him removed.
Paty was beheaded on 16 October by 18-year old Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov. The teenager was shot dead by police shortly after committing the brutal murder.
During the trial on Monday, M’hammed Henniche, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Pantin and president of the Muslim Federation of Pantin which had challenged the closure, said he was “overwhelmed” and expressed regret over sharing the video on social media.
Henniche told French media he had shared the video not to endorse the father’s complaint but out of concern for Muslim children.
In its jugement the court said the rector had nonetheless shown “incomprehensible negligence”, at a time when “his position and functions should have led him to show more restraint”.
Henniche’s defence argued the closure was unjust. "This has happened only because the authorities want to make Pantin mosque a symbol of government measures in the fight against terrorism,” said lawyer Vincent Brengarth.
“While Henniche posted part of the video, he immediately recognised a moral error [but] no one could imagine the terror attack would happen.”
Closing the mosque was “extremely dangerous in a State of law,” Brengarth argued, “because it would lead to the closure of all establishments that relayed this video.”
It would also, he said, lead to measures against all the people who had relayed the video many of whom did so "in an extremely unusual context and absolutely not as a call for hatred, murder and slaughter of this teacher."
Links to Salafism
The mosque is also alleged to have “links with salafism” and be frequented by “people implicated in the jihadi movement,” according to the closure order.
It highlighted the teaching of imam Doucouré, alias Abou Talha, who led Friday prayers at the mosque.
Doucouré was trained for two years in a “fundamentalist institute” in Yemen, and put three of his children into a clandestine school in the east of Paris, the order claimed.
Doucouré announced on Sunday he was stepping down from his post.
Lawyers representing the Muslim Federation of Pantin announced it would appeal the decision to close the mosque at the Council of State, France’s highest administrative court.
French authorities have taken other measures to clampdown on what they see as a politico-religious Islamist project which seeks to undermine the Republic.
It recently dissolved the pro-Hamas group Cheikh Yassine which president Macron said was “directly implicated” in the murder of Samuel Paty.
A member of Cheikh Yassine's Collective, Abdelhakim Sefrioui, is currently in police custody for publishing a video on YouTube insulting Paty.
Last Tuesday Prime Minister Jean Castex told parliament the government was now targeting “all associations whose complicity with radical Islamism has been established”.
Interior minister Gérald Darmanin has threatened to close the Collective against Islamophobia in France, an anti-racist civil society group, describing it as "an Islamist workshop".