France closes 'radical' mosque after huge police raid

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Lagny-sur-Marne (France) (AFP) - Police shut down a suspected radical mosque east of Paris in a huge security operation Wednesday, the third to be closed since France declared a state of emergency after last month's Paris attacks.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said three "pseudo-cultural associations" linked to the mosque at Lagny-sur-Marne were also being dissolved, the first time the government has used its special powers to wind up such groups.

Two other mosques were closed last week at Gennevilliers in the northern suburbs of Paris and in the small town of L'Arbresle near the central city of Lyon.

"We will act with absolute firmness against those who preach hate in France," Cazeneuve told parliament.

The closures are part of a huge security crackdown after 130 people were killed in the jihadist attacks on Paris on November 13.

"Such measures to close mosques because of radicalisation have never before been taken by any government, including during the last state of emergency in 2005" after rioting broke out across France's troubled suburbs, Cazeneuve said in a statement.

He said a nine-millimetre revolver had been discovered during the raid in which one of the "leaders" of the Lagny-sur-Marne mosque was arrested. A hidden computer hard disk and documents relating to jihad were also found.

Investigators also found that an unregistered madrassa, or koranic school, was being operated at the site.

Nine people have since been placed under house arrest following the raid in Lagny-sur-Marne and 22 banned from leaving the country, Cazeneuve said.

The interior minister said there had been a fourth shutdown in the southeastern city of Nice, but his aides told AFP this operation had targeted "four hidden prayer rooms" rather than a mosque.

The assets of imam Mohamed Hammoumi, who ran the Lagny-sur-Marne mosque and the cultural associations until he left to live in Egypt in 2014, were frozen in April.

Authorities said Wednesday the prayer room in L'Arbresle had been used by extremists suspected of having contacts with others in Syria.

- Huge rise in gun seizures -

Cazeneuve told parliament that there had been 2,235 searches leading to 263 arrests since the three-month state of emergency began.

"In 15 days we have seized a third of the weapons of war we would normally recover in a year," he said.

Of the 334 firearms seized, 145 were rifles and 34 assault weapons.

Cazeneuve said 330 people who had been under surveillance by the security services for links to radical Islam have been put under house arrest.

Since May 2012, France has expelled 65 imams and preachers, 34 of them this year.

Meanwhile, a pig's head was discovered Tuesday in front of a Muslim prayer room at Ecquevilly in the Yvelines west of Paris.

Police said worshippers found it sitting in a flower pot when they arrived for prayer.

The trio of mosque closures has met with mixed reactions from French Muslims, with some religious leaders complaining that Europe's largest Islamic community is already short of worship space and that police raids should target hate preachers individually rather than prayer halls.

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