PARIS (Reuters) – France will bar radical Muslim preachers from entering the country to participate in an Islamic conference next month as part of a crackdown after shootings by an al Qaeda-inspired gunman, President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday.
Sarkozy, who has announced plans to punish those viewing Islamist Web sites and going abroad for indoctrination, said he would block the entry of some imams invited to a congress organized by theUnion of French Islamic Organizations (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,” Sarkozy told France Info radio.
He cited 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. 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,” 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.
MERAH A “MONSTER”
Sarkozy, campaigning for re-election, rebutted criticism by opposition politicians that the security services blundered in allowing 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, a petty criminal known to have visited Afghanistan twice, to shoot dead seven people in a 10-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,” Sarkozy said.