One of France’s highest profile imams has appealed to President Emmanuel Macron for increased police protection after receiving “thousands” of death threats over his condemnation of terrorist attacks.
Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the Paris suburb of Drancy and a leading Muslim moderate, said he had received a torrent of new threats since he spoke out against the beheading of a French teacher last month.
Mr Chalghoumi described Samuel Paty, the teacher murdered after showing his class cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, as a “martyr for freedom of expression, and a wise man who has taught tolerance, civilisation and respect for others”.
As president of the Conference of Imams of France, Mr Chalghoumi has worked to improve relations between Muslims and Jews. He supports France’s ban on the face veil and has called for tolerance of caricatures of the prophet.
The 48-year-old Tunisian-born imam has lived under police guard since Islamic State called for his “execution” following the 2015 Paris attacks. He now believes the danger has risen sharply with the surge in threats on social media.
An Arabic post on Twitter said: “We urge true Muslims of France to allow Chalghoumi to join the history teacher and also become a martyr of the nation.”
Another post intercepted on the Telegram messaging service described Mr Chalghoumi as “your new target” and called on followers to “execute him because he is filthier than those French infidels”.
David-Olivier Kaminski, Mr Chalghoumi’s lawyer, has written to Mr Macron arguing he needs more protection after receiving such threats “by the thousand”.
The imam, who followed religious instruction in Syria and Pakistan before settling in France, has long been at loggerheads with an Islamist now under arrest over his alleged role in encouraging Mr Paty’s decapitation.
The Islamist, Moroccan-born Abdelhakim Sefrioui, had led a social media campaign against Mr Paty for showing the cartoons in a class on free speech.
Mr Sefrioui tried to get Mr Chalghoumi ousted from the Drancy mosque in 2010, when the imam controversially came out in favour of banning the veil.
After the teacher’s decapitation, Mr Macron ordered a crackdown on Islamist groups. His condemnation of “Islamist separatism” and robust defence of France’s constitutional principle of laïcité, or secularism, has sparked protests and calls for boycotts of French goods in a number of Muslim-majority countries.
The president doubled the number of French border police after a terrorist attack in a Nice church last month, when a Tunisian migrant killed three people less than 48 hours after entering France illegally from Italy.
Mr Macron is to demand tougher EU border controls to combat terrorism and illegal immigration at the bloc’s summit next month. He is pushing for a rethink of Europe’s Schengen free travel agreement, under which 26 countries have officially abolished passport and other border controls, following recent terrorist attacks in France and Austria.