French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says 20 mosques and prayer halls have been shut down in recent months and that more closures are to follow over exposure of radical views.

Members of the Muslim community pray in a mosque in Marseille during an open-day weekend for mosques in France.
Members of the Muslim community pray in a mosque in Marseille during an open-day weekend for mosques in France. (TRT World and Agencies)

A new foundation will be created to help finance mosques in France and keep out radical benefactors, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Monday.

Head of the French Muslim Council said, Anouar Kbibech, proposed the foundation would be used to fund the construction and running of mosques and would be financed by fees paid by actors in France's halal food sector.

France is a secular state that prohibits the use of state money for places of worship.

There are between 5.5 million and 6.2 million Muslims in France, or about 7.6 per cent of the total population, making it home to Europe's largest Muslim community.

Earlier on Sunday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls had said that he wants to put an end to the financing from abroad for the construction of mosques and urged a "new model" for relations with Islam.

"Almost all Muslims of France are attached to a serene, open, tolerant Islam and they are fully respecting the values and laws of the Republic," Kbibech said on LCI television.

The French Muslim Council, called the CFCM, is also working to improve the training of imams in France so that they have a better knowledge of the country's secular history and the institutions of the Republic, Kbebich said.

After meeting Kbebich, Cazeneuve said he wants the foundation to be launched in October, which would guarantee total transparency in financing of mosques.

The meeting comes as France struggles with an unprecedented terror threat that has seen four DAESH-claimed attacks during the past 18 months.

The most recent truck massacre in Nice killed 84, and the murder of a Catholic priest in the Normandy village of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

The repeat attacks have raised tough questions about security failures, and revived the debate about the foreign funding of many mosques.

Some observers have suggested foreign influence over certain mosques and prayer rooms in France could encourage the radicalisation of attendants.

On Sunday, dozens of Muslims in France and Italy attended to Catholic Mass as a gesture of interfaith solidarity following the priest's murder.

Places of worship shut down in France

Addressing a press conference, Cazeneuve said 20 mosques and prayer halls have been shut down in recent months due to what is being considered as radical views being exposed there.

"That is why I took the decision a few months ago to close mosques through the state of emergency, legal measures or administrative measures."

He said that since 2012, 80 people had been expelled from France, and dozens more expulsions were under way, without giving further details.

The interior minister added that more places of worship will be closed based on the information available with the government.

There are some 2,500 mosques and prayer halls in France, about 120 of which are considered to be preaching militant interpretations of Islam.

"There's no room in France for those who call for and stir up hatred in prayer rooms or mosques and do not respect the principles of the Republic," he said.

Secrertary General of the French Muslim Council, Abdallah Zekri, told reporters that, "If there are Salafist mosques threatening the Republic, they must be closed."

"If there are foreign Imams who threaten France, they must be deported," he added.

France declared a state of emergency after DAESH terrorists killed 130 people in the French capital in November last year.

The emergency has been extended numerous times as attacks on the country have followed.

Several national and international human rights bodies have criticised France'’s state of emergency and other measures taken in the aftermath of the terror attacks.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued reports in February pointing towards the harmful effects of the state of emergency, which seem to have been especially felt by the French Muslim community in the country.

The reports saying that France has been conducting abusive and discriminatory raids and house arrests against Muslims under its new state of emergency law.

Monitoring groups had also reported that anti-Muslim incidents, including attacks on women and hateful graffiti, flared up across France in the wake of the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies