AJACCIO, France/DHAKA - Dozens of angry Corsicans staged a fresh protest on the French Mediterranean island on Saturday, a day after demonstrators vandalised a Muslim prayer hall and trashed copies of the Quran after an assault on firefighters.
As condemnation poured in from Muslim authorities and French officials over Friday’s anti-Arab protests, around 100 demonstrators shouting “We’re still here” turned out in the same low-income neighbourhood of the capital Ajaccio where the Christmas day violence took place. Despite a heavy police presence, one demonstrator managed to smash three glass entrance doors in the Jardins de l’Empereur housing estate perched on an Ajaccio hillside as protesters shouted “This is our home!”.
Like the demonstration that ended in trouble the previous day, the protest aimed to denounce violence against police and firefighters on the estate. Two firefighters and a police officer were wounded in the neighbourhood overnight on Christmas Eve after a fire was “deliberately lit to ambush police and firefighters”, said regional official Francois Lalanne.
A firefighter at the scene said hooded youths who attacked the officers shouted at them: “Scram, Corsicans, you’re not at home here!” On Friday afternoon, 600 people had gathered in front of police headquarters in Ajaccio in a show of support for the police and firefighters. But some 300 broke away to head for the housing estate. Shouting “Arabs get out!” or “This is our home!”, the group smashed a Muslim prayer room, partially burning books including copies of the Koran, said Lalanne. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls wrote on Twitter that the break-in was “an unacceptable desecration”, while also condemning the “intolerable attack” on the wounded firefighters.
Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), said he had learnt of the mosque attack and the burning of “several copies of the Koran” with “distress”. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the attack on the Muslim prayer hall showed signs of “racism and xenophobia”. He also condemned the assault on law enforcement and safety officers in Corsica, saying he hoped “the authors of the violence would be identified and arrested as soon as possible.”
Moreover, the Islamic State group on Saturday claimed responsibility for an attack at a mosque of the minority Ahmadi Muslims in Bangladesh, in which the suspected bomber died and at least three others were injured. US-based monitoring organisation SITE reported that the IS group, which has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks in Bangladesh, said it had targeted worshippers during Friday prayers.
The bomber detonated an explosive belt at a mosque of the “polytheist Qadiani sect,” a derogatory term for Ahmadi Muslims, the monitoring organisation quoted IS as saying. According to the statement “dozens” of worshippers were injured or killed at the mosque in the northwestern town of Bagmara, but police said on Friday only three had been injured.
The bomb blast at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat mosque in Bagmara, some 250 kilometres (150 miles) from the capital Dhaka, occurred as nearly 100 people were gathered for Friday prayers, police said.
IS has claimed a series of recent attacks in Bangladesh, including the shooting of three foreigners, two of whom died, and the killing of a Sufi Muslim shrine chief in November. The jihadists also claimed an attack at a Shiite mosque in the north of the country last month in which the muezzin was killed and three worshippers injured — though some experts have expressed scepticism about the claims.
Police blame the homegrown militant group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) for the recent violence while Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government accuses the main opposition party and its Islamist ally of trying to trigger anarchy. The parties deny the claims. Analysts say Islamist extremists pose a growing danger in conservative Bangladesh and that a long-running political crisis has radicalised opponents of the government.