Man (84) arrested on suspicion of shooting two others at French mosque
Suspect has connections to Marine Le Pen’ far-right party, National Rally
French police officers and people stand in front of the Mosque of Bayonne, southwestern France on Saturday after two people were injured in a shooting. Photograph: Gaizka Iroz/AFP via Gettys)
An 84-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of carrying out a shooting and arson attack that injured two people outside a mosque in south-west France.
Two men aged 74 and 78 are in a serious but stable condition in hospital after the incident in Bayonne on Monday afternoon.
Police said a man tried to set fire to the door of the mosque and when he was interrupted he opened fire. The man then set fire to a car before fleeing, police said.
The suspect was arrested close to his home in the Landes, 16km away. The two injured men are believed to be worshippers at the mosque.
A police source told Reuters that the suspect was a candidate in local elections in the Landes in 2015 for Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, Front National, which has since been renamed National Rally. He took 17 per cent of the vote in the first round.
France’s interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said offered his “solidarity and support to the Muslim community” over the attack and said he felt their “shock and fear”.
Ms Le Pen condemned what she called an “unspeakable attack” and said it was “absolutely contrary to the values of our movement”. She said: “These crimes must be dealt with with the utmost severity.”
France has been grappling with a fresh political row over the Muslim headscarf and calls by some on the right to ban mothers in headscarves from volunteering on school trips.
This month 90 personalities, including actors and writers, signed an open letter in Le Monde calling on the French president, Emmanuel Macron, “to say with force that Muslim women, whether they wear a headscarf or not, and Muslims in general have a place in our society – and to refuse our fellow Muslim citizens being monitored, stigmatised or denounced for the practice of their religion.”
Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the leftwing France Unbowed party, tweeted on Monday: “In Bayonne the harassment of Muslims has produced its effect. Enough is enough now.” He called on all public figures to “stop encouraging hatred”.
Hours before the mosque attack in Bayonne, Mr Macron had met Muslim leaders at the Elysee Palace and urged France’s Muslim community to step up the fight against “separatism”, in the wake of a recent attack by a radicalised police employee who stabbed four colleagues to death in Paris.
There have been intermittent attacks on mosques in France in recent years. In 2007, 148 Muslim headstones in a national military cemetery near Arras were smeared with anti-Islamic slurs and a pig’s head was placed among them.
In March this year, workers building a mosque in the south-western town of Bergerac found a pig’s head and animal blood at the entrance to the site.
Mosques were also targeted after the killing of 12 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015.
Dozens of mosques were attacked by arsonists, and others with firebombs, grenades or gunfire. – Guardian News and Media 2019