Protesters and politicians condemn French mosque fire

Arab World Materials 22 December 2008 00:09 (UTC +04:00)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy joined Muslim groups Sunday in condemning attackers who set fire to a mosque in a Lyon suburb, and hundreds gathered outside the building to protest against racism and Islamophobia, Reuters reported.

The fire at the mosque in the Lyon suburb of Saint-Priest was started early Saturday before morning prayers and caused damage to the entrance, walls and religious books before being put out.

Sarkozy denounced the "shameful and racist" incident and called for the perpetrators to be found quickly and punished.

Islamic groups and politicians condemned the attack as a "despicable" and "criminal" act.

Organisers of the demonstration said some 3,000 people of different religions gathered outside the mosque, while police said they estimated the number at around 600.

"This mobilisation shows the will of the Muslim community not to accept being treated in this way any longer and to respond each time," Kamel Kabtane, head of Lyon's Grand Mosque, told the demonstrators.

Azzedine Gacci, president of the Muslim regional council, said there had been some 10 "Islamophobic acts" in the last two years and called for a national demonstration by all religions and for Islamophobia to be condemned alongside anti-Semitism and racism.

Police were investigating the fire but had not yet found who was responsible, Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said.

Hundreds of tombstones in the Muslim part of a military cemetery near the northern French town of Arras were damaged earlier this month in the third such attack on the site in less than two years.