Sergeant remanded in custody accused of planning to attack Lyon mosque as worshippers celebrated end of Ramadan
A French air force officer said to hold extreme rightwing views has been accused of planning to attack a mosque as worshippers celebrated the end of Ramadan.
The 23-year-old sergeant, who has not been named, was detained by police at an airbase at Mont Verdun near Lyon last Wednesday and remanded in custody.
After four days of questioning by the intelligence services, he appeared before a court in Paris at the weekend and was put under formal investigation for being in "possession of ammunition linked to a terrorist enterprise" against a place of worship.
The man was also accused of "damaging a religious place in a terrorist act" after he reportedly admitted throwing an incendiary device at a mosque at Libourne, near Bordeaux, last August. Nobody was injured in the incident and damage to the mosque was described as minimal.
According to a police source, the suspect admitted he was planning to fire shots at the Minguettes mosque at Vénissieux, a suburb of Lyon, last Thursday (8 August) at the end of the Muslim holy month.
Investigators told French journalists the man was "a lone figure and psychologically fragile … and going through a difficult period after romantic difficulties". His family alerted the authorities after finding documents suggesting he had links with "terrorist" organisations and had "views close to the extreme right".
Le Parisien reported that the sergeant had also made several attempts to contact Maxime Brunerie, a far-right activist who tried to attack the then president Jacques Chirac during the traditional Bastille day celebrations in 2002.
Relatives of the airman said he had been affected by the suicide of the rightwing historian Dominique Venner, who shot himself in front of the altar in Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris on 21 May.
In a statement, the French interior minister, Manuel Valls, praised the intelligence services for detaining the sergeant and preventing the attack. "The interior minister reiterates his resolute determination to combat all violence inspired by extremist ideology," it said.
At the weekend Valls also "severely condemned" a series of attacks on a Muslim prayer hall in the Gironde, south-west France, after petrol was poured through the letterbox and set alight, and the building covered in swastikas. The minister described the incidents as "intolerable".
On Monday, Kamel Kabtane, the rector of the Lyon mosque, which only opened in May, said the airman's alleged plot showed that "a climate of Islamophobia reigns in France today and cannot hide its face".
"Islam is more and more stigmatised," he told journalists. Kabtane called for a gathering in front of the mosque later on Monday "to show our concern and our solidarity and to show that Muslims need to be protected".
According to the Islamophobia Observatory, threats and attacks of an Islamophobic nature rose by 35% during the first six months of 2013, compared with the same period last year.
A report published in July recorded 108 attacks – including the use of violence, fire and damage – compared with 80 reported in the first half of 2012. The number of threats and insults rose from 63 in 2012 to 84 this year.
"And these do not include threats that went unreported, which means the figures do not reflect the reality," said Abdallah Zekri, the observatory president.
The French government is considering legislation to ban headscarves and other religious symbols in universities and higher education establishments. A similar ban already covers state schools.
[A Dassault Mirage F1 of the French Air Force exposed during the meeting of the 60th birthday of the French Air Patrol of the French Air Force at Salon de provence, Bouches du Rhones, France. by Flickr user .H0oT.]