The gulf between British and French treatment of preachers of hatred and violence was thrown sharply into focus yesterday when France announced the summary expulsion of a dozen Islamists between now and the end of August.
A tough new anti-terrorism package was unveiled by Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister and a popular centre-Right politician.
His proposals reflect French determination to act swiftly against extremists in defiance of the human rights lobby, which is noticeably less vocal in France than in Britain.
Imams and their followers who fuel anti-western feeling among impressionable young French Muslims will be rounded up and returned to their countries of origin, most commonly in France’s case to its former north African colonies.
Mr Sarkozy also revealed that as many as 12 French mosques associated with provocative anti-western preaching were under surveillance. Imams indulging in inflammatory rhetoric will be expelled even if their religious status is recognised by mainstream Muslim bodies.
Those who have assumed French citizenship will not be protected from deportation. Mr Sarkozy said he will reactivate measures, “already available in our penal code but simply not used”, to strip undesirables of their adopted nationality. “We have to act against radical preachers capable of influencing the youngest and most weak-minded,” Mr Sarkozy told the French daily Le Parisien.
The first to be caught in the new round of expulsions is an Algerian, Rena Ameuroud, whose brother Abderraham was jailed in France earlier this year for his part in a jihadist training exercise in the Fontainebleau forest south of Paris. He faces immediate deportation for allegedly urging fellow-worshippers at a Parisian mosque to engage in “holy war”.
At least seven French nationals are now known to have been killed while fighting with anti-coalition insurgents in Iraq, in some cases as suicide bombers, the minister said. A further 10 are believed still to be there. France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim population with estimates varying from five to nine million out of a population of 60 million, has long prided itself on its stern approach to terrorism.
Mr Sarkozy’s crackdown on those “promoting radical Islamist polemic” was disclosed at the end of a week that began with French anger at Britain’s failure to extradite the alleged financier of Islamist bombings in Paris in the mid-1990s. Rachid Ramda, 35, an Algerian, has been held for 10 years while fighting attempts to return him to stand trial. Survivors and victims’ relatives who gathered this week at the St Michel station in the heart of Paris to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the worst attack, which killed eight, called on Britain to “stop protecting” Ramda.
They are unimpressed by his supporters’ claims that he is a “gentle and peaceful” man who devotes his time in the Belmarsh top-security jail in south-east London to learning the Koran by heart, studying English literature and comforting other Muslim prisoners. Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has approved Ramda’s extradition – as did his predecessor David Blunkett – but his removal depends on High Court proceedings.
French ministers and commentators have long expressed exasperation at British handling of individuals who support terrorism, arguing that greater emphasis is being placed on their human rights rather than on security interests.