France is to ban radical Muslim preachers from entering the country as part of a crackdown after shootings by an al Qaeda-inspired gunman in Toulouse, President Nicolas Sarkozy said today.
The President said he would block the entry of some imams invited to an Islamic conference next month, organised by the Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF).
The UOIF, one of three Muslim federations in France, is regarded as close to Egypt’s Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
‘I have clearly indicated that there certain people who have been invited to this congress who are not welcome on French soil,’ Mr Sarkozy told France Info radio.
The crackdown follows the murder of seven people in Toulouse by Islamic extremist Mohammed Merah, 23.
The gunman shot down a Rabbi, three children and three soldiers in three separate attacks before being shot dead at the end of 32-hour police siege.
Following the shootings last week, Mr Sarkozy has announced plans to punish those viewing websites advocating Islamic extremism and going abroad for indoctrination or terrorist training.
One imam banned by the President is Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar who is one of the most prominent Sunni Muslim clerics in the Arab world and a household name in the Middle East due to regular appearances on the Al Jazeera news channel.
A former member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Qaradawi is independent of the group but remains close to it. Mr Sarkozy said the situation was complicated because the imam holds a diplomatic passport and does not require a visa to enter France.
‘I indicated to the Emir of Qatar himself that this person was not welcome on the territory of the French republic,’ Mr Sarkozy said. ‘He will not come.’
Qaradawi was denied a visa to visit Britain in 2008 on grounds of seeking to ‘justify acts of terrorist violence or disburse views that could foster inter-community violence’, a Home Office spokeswoman said at the time.
The cleric had defended Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel and attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.
The killing spree by Merah has pushed security to the top of the political agenda.
Mr Sarkozy, campaigning for re-election, has rebutted criticism by opposition politicians that the security services blundered in allowing the 23-year-old, a petty criminal known to have visited Afghanistan twice, to shoot dead seven people in a ten-day rampage in southwest France.
‘Here is a young criminal who suddenly becomes a very active terrorist without any transition. As far as we know there was no cell,’ Mr Sarkozy said.
The legislation will have to wait until after a two-round April-May presidential election because the Socialist opposition has resisted an emergency session of parliament to approve them.