France is once again responding to a Paris slaughter at the hands of Islamic radicals by trying to root out extremism entrenched in its growing Muslim population.
This time, however, the socialist government of President Francois Hollande seems to mean it.
Last January, after the Charlie Hebdo killing spree by three Muslims tied to al Qaeda and the Islamic State terror army that left 17 dead, the Hollande government put more suspected jihadis on a watch list, imposed intrusive surveillance and blocked jihadi websites.
But all the monitoring did not stop at least nine Islamic State terrorists from an even larger slaughter of 130 persons at restaurants and a concert hall on a Friday night in November.
This time Mr. Hollande ratcheted up the response. He declared war on the Islamic State, imposed a state of emergency that suspended civil liberties and, for the first time in France, shut down three mosques deemed to be inspiring and supporting murderous zealots.
Some terror experts believe fabric of French Muslim life is woven with so many threads of radicalism that even these steps are not enough.
“France is still very slow to understand the vast majority of Islamic centers/mosques are the problem, not just a few extremist ones,” said John Guandolo, a former FBI agent who leads a group, Understanding the Threat, which reports on what it sees as radical Islam.
Mr. Guandolo takes a hard line against Islamists. Some liberals brand him as “anti-Muslim.”
Robert Maginnis, a retired Army officer and author of the book on radical Islam “Never Submit,” said French officials are taking a harder line because they more clearly see the threat posed to the country’s political traditions and way of life.
“Now as we see in France, and in countries like Germany and Sweden, Europeans are beginning to see the clash of civilizations as the tsunami of Islamic people flood into Europe and refuse to assimilate,” he said. “This fact is beginning to wake up Europeans who understand their civilization is at risk.”
The crackdown has not been universally accepted inside France. On Wednesday Christiane Taubira, Mr. Hollande’s popular and high-profile justice minister, unexpectedly resigned to protest the government’s push to revoke citizenship from convicted terrorists with dual nationality.
France has Europe’s largest Muslim population, estimated at 8 percent to 10 percent of the country’s total population of 66 million. Many live in the “banlieues,” the mostly poor, semisegregated suburbs that ring Paris and other cities. Officials refer to some neighborhoods as “no-go” zones for police and security officials because of their isolation and governance by authoritarian religious clerics.
The French Center for Intelligence Research, a Paris think tank, estimates that a half-million Muslim citizens identify with radical Islam.
The Paris newspaper Le Figaro reported last summer on a secret intelligence assessment that 41 of some 2,200 mosques in France are “now destabilized” by Salafists — the ultrafundamentalist Sunni Muslim extremists who drive al Qaeda and Islamic State ideology.
“Usually quite young, well structured and sometimes advised by lawyers, they first install a small prayer room or create an ultra-orthodox school right next to the place of worship target,” the article said. “Then they infuse their radical theories that appeal to young people and fuel rumors about the alleged maladministration.”
The ‘Islamization’ of France
Soeren Kern, an analyst at the nonprofit Gatestone Institute, writes a regular column on “The Islamization of France” based on news reports and other sources.
His Jan. 19 update quotes Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Grand Mosque in Paris, saying he wants the number of mosques in France to double over the next two years and that unused churches should be converted into Islamic prayer centers.
Mr. Kern reports that about 40,000 cars are burned each year in France by Muslim gangs.
His article lists a chronology of Islamic-related news events, such as the teacher who quit a Muslim school because it teaches anti-Semitism and the Muslim cleric who preaches that women are naturally selfish and must acknowledge “the goodness that man bestows upon her” or be condemned to hell.
On Dec. 13, he reports, 70 airport employees in Paris had their security clearances revoked after the government identified them as Islamic extremists. They included mechanics, baggage handlers and gate agents.
On Jan. 13 the minister of the interior announced details of how it used current law to close a mosque in Lagny-sur-Marne, a suburb east of Paris, which had become a prime recruiting center for jihadis in Syria.
The government also dissolved the three Islamic associations operating the mosque, essentially saying they were front organizations for radicals.
“Under the guise of ritual purposes,” the minister’s statement said, “these three associations, interlinked by their leaders and common objects, in reality aimed at promoting a radical ideology causing jihad and organize the departure of fighters in Syria-Iraq area.”
France had also shut down mosques in Gennevilliers in Paris’ northern suburbs and in the town of L’Arbresle near Lyon.
“Such measures to close mosques because of radicalization have never before been taken by any government, including during the last state of emergency in 2005,” said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.
Mr. Cazeneuve told parliament in December that, one month into the state of emergency, authorities had conducted 2,235 raids, producing 262 arrests.
Paris continues to be in the Islamic State’s cross-hairs. The terror group, based in Raqqa, Syria, released a video homage last Sunday to the nine terrorists who died in the attack that killed 130 civilians on Nov. 13. One clip put a target on Mr. Hollande’s head, and it vowed to also attack Great Britain.
The video showed some of the nine shooting and beheading prisoners in Syria and Iraq. The gruesome scenes tell this troubling storyline: The Islamic State can recruit foreign fighters, train them to kill and then deploy them back to Europe.
The conservative government of British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a series of steps to stem Islamic extremism, including closing mosques and deporting clerics. Mr. Cameron also issued a damning report on the global fraternity Muslim Brotherhood and said it might be banned.
The organizer of the Nov. 13 massacre had photos of British tourist sites in his cellphone.