France’s efforts to clamp down on Islamic extremism continues to target children.
Four ten-year-old children were taken for questioning in Albertville, southeast France, last week. Three of the children were of Turkish origin, the fourth from North Africa.
The incident, part of a growing trend by the French authorities of targeting the country’s Muslim population over perceived ‘radicalisation’, was slammed as “insane Islamophobia” by Turkish civic society leader Abdullah Eren (pictured top).
Details of the interrogation came to light after Servet Yıldırım, the father of one of the children, talked to media.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Mr Yıldırım said that up to ten armed police officers had arrived at their home for a pre-dawn raid on Thursday.
He described how they banged on the door demanding entry, and he was then told to wake his daughter, who was later taken away for interrogation.
“We were in shock. They treated us like terrorists,” said Mr Yıldırım.
The father, who is originally from the Black Sea city of Gümüşhane, claims his daughter and the three other children were detained by police for 11 hours and grilled on their views on Islam and the gruesome death of teacher Samuel Paty.
The teacher was beheaded in Paris by Abdullakh Anzorov, a radicalised teenager of Chechen descent, on 16 October for showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed in his class as part of lessons on freedom of expression. The caricatures are deemed blasphemous by Muslims.
Mr Yıldırım believes remarks his daughter and the other children innocently made in school about the cartoons the day before were triggers for the raid on the morning of 5 November.
“At school my child said: ‘I’m sorry that the teacher was killed. But I wish he hadn’t published those cartoons too,’” Mr Yıldırım told Anadolu Agency.
The father of three explained that he, his wife, who wears a headscarf, their two sons and his 10-year-old daughter, identified by her initials E.Y., were told to remain seated in their living room, and were forbidden to move as the police searched their home.
Turkish family in Albertville tells Anadolu Agency how their 10-year-old daughter, pictured, was detained on suspicion of radicalisation in pre-dawn raid
Four children aged 10 held under police detention for more than 11 hours in Albertville, #France on charges “apology for terrorism”
According to their parents, masked policemen entered the house and detained their children for 11 hours.
-Anadolu Agency pic.twitter.com/SnNDp7E979
— EHA News (@eha_news) November 7, 2020
The police photographed images of Islamic scripture on the walls in the house, and also searched the daughter’s room, which contained pamphlets about Islam.
“They searched E.Y.’s room, dumped her books on the floor, took pictures of them. Then they took my child and left,” the father said.
“They told us, ‘E.Y. is accused of terrorism. We will take her (E.Y.) in this way, as she supports terrorism. You can come to the police station at 9am in the morning’.”
The four children were taken to an unknown location without any adults and grilled for hours about their and their families’ Islamic beliefs. The Turkish children were also questioned about their views on the political spat between France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over Islamophobia and freedom of speech.
Mr Yıldırım, who works in the construction sector, and his wife were also questioned at the police station, and with the aid of an interpreter they gave statements about their Islamic beliefs and practices. He criticised the French authorities for failing to give them any written details about the raid and their investigation.
“They took our fingerprints after we finished our statements. They took us to a white wall and took our pictures from the front, the right side and the left, treating us like terrorists.”
French Muslims protest at growing Islamophobia in the country
— ANADOLU AGENCY (ENG) (@anadoluagency) November 9, 2020
The families’ experiences have been strongly criticised by Turkey’s diaspora body Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar (YTB, Turks Abroad and Related Communities).
YTB president Abdullah Eren issued a statement in Turkish and French on social media, where he shared details of the incident and claimed that “Islamophobia in France has reached insane levels.”
Mr Eren slammed the French authorities for failing to explain their actions to the family: “Not even a single document is given,” adding that “Reason, conscience, law will not accept this!”
The YTB head stated they would be “closely tracking” developments.
France has experienced a spate of terror attacks by radicalised Muslims in the past few months, promoting closer scrutiny of the country’s estimated 5.7 million Muslim population.
In recent weeks, the French press have reported cases of other children being questioned as part of the Pharos online watchdog scheme, a police service that monitors extremist online content and commentary.
France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin
Last week, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that since Paty’s death “66 inquiries” into suspected support of terrorism had commenced following alerts received by Pharos.
“The questioning often involves young people, aged 12 to 16, who have used extremely repugnant language,” Darmanin told a parliamentary panel on Monday, 2 November.
Pharos was developed using elements of the UK’s Prevent counter-terrorism strategy to combat the indoctrination of young people who are exposed to extremist ideas.
Prevent came under heavy criticism because it was initially perceived as targeting and discriminating against Muslims. The strategy has continued to evolve in Britain and now seeks to combat all forms of radicalisation, including the extreme ideology of the far-right.
France has been labelled Islamophobic following years of discrimination against Muslims. Wearing a hijab, eating halal food and men growing beards have all been regarded as possible signs of radicalisation.
Very few politicians have stood with French Muslims, who complain of widespread alienation and growing hate crimes in the country due to the way the French authorities have twinned terrorism with their faith.
When Jean-Luc Mélenchon, an MP and leader of the socialist La France Insoumise party, attended a protest in Paris last November to condemn Islamophobia, he found himself and the demonstration heavily criticised.
A tweet issued by President Macron’s party En Marche claimed the protesters “are fighting in favour of political Islam”, while former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, said Mélenchon and other politicians’ open letter against Islamophobia, published in left-leaning newspaper Libération, was a “shameful abandonment” of France’s secular values.