But not so far that AP couldn’t find them. (Thanks to Ali Dashti for the link.) And of course, if they actually cooperated with authorities in anti-terror efforts, most of their worries about civil liberties would evaporate.
PARIS “” The Omar Mosque was packed with several hundred worshippers, forcing the overflow into a cold alley and a nearby cafe.
No fiery words blared from the loudspeaker, no calls in this formerly hard-line mosque for holy war against Jews or the U.S. occupation of Iraq. A government crackdown has forced such militant talk from radical Muslims deep underground into “secret prayer rooms,” and what’s left here is a cloud of suspicion and hostile glances at visitors.
“We come here to pray,” said Soufian Mahdawi, a bearded 22-year-old in a white Arab robe and a headdress. “We don’t want any tension, any problems. We try not to interfere in anyone’s affairs and to keep to ourselves.”
Mr. Madawi, born in Paris to Tunisian parents, refused to even discuss Iraq.
Another young man of Tunisian origin, Fouad Mohsen, 28, said televised scenes of mayhem in Iraq have had considerable impact on the psyche of Muslims here. But he said he wasn’t into politics and didn’t know anyone who had joined the fight against the U.S. occupation.
The two young men are members of a Muslim North African community that’s the prime target of a relentless French campaign to root out terrorist threats.
Over the past several years, especially following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, French authorities have adopted some of the toughest anti-terrorism laws and policies in Europe “” including pre-emptive arrests, ethnic profiling and interrogation without the presence of defense attorneys.
The authorities have more than 40 mosques under watch. Police agents in civilian clothes reportedly mill in and outside mosques, recording speeches of the prayer leaders, or imams.
As a result, most of the radical preaching that calls for jihad, or holy war, and aims to recruit young Frenchmen for the insurgency in Iraq is not carried out in the open, said Gilles Leclair, director of France’s Anti-Terrorism Coordination Unit.
“Most of them are clandestine … secret prayer rooms, not in the official mosques,” Mr. Leclair told AP.
So the authorities sometimes resort to unconventional tactics.
According to Mr. Leclair, if officials have information that “Mr. Mohammed X” is a suspect but have no solid evidence, they have no qualms about finding something in his personal life, like a past complaint from his abused wife, to detain him for questioning.
“Sometimes, of course, we can bring some trouble in the personal life, but I think it’s better to [make] trouble for some people for one day and avoid 200 to 300 people from dying in a blast,” Mr. Leclair said.
Police tread a thin line between ensuring security and eroding civil liberties with such tactics aimed at militants among France’s 6 million Muslims.
“Today, if you are a Muslim, you are more afraid than if you are not a Muslim,” said Aziz Zemouri, 36, a writer whose parents immigrated from Tunisia.
Since the 1980s, French police have been planting informants to penetrate the Muslim population and have recruited Muslim detectives.
“I think there’s a mixed opinion on this among the Muslim community,” said Mr. Zemouri. Some help the police because they believe radicalism is bad for the Arab community, he said.
Mr. Zemouri, who is not an Arab but a Berber “” a people indigenous to North Africa long before the arrival of the Arabs in the eighth century “” believes civil liberties are suffering. “You are kept in a secret place for four days without any lawyer and often you never know why they have arrested you. They put pressure on you and sometimes beat you.”…
“There are many pieces of the puzzle,” said France’s Anti-Terrorism Coordination chief, stressing the difficulty of monitoring the movement of French volunteers to Iraq and the difficulties of the battle against terrorism.
“It’s a long war,” added Mr. Leclair. “It’s the war of our century.”
Yes it is.