Violence continues after attack on Muslim prayer hall in France
PARIS - A crowd vandalized a Muslim prayer room in Corsica a day after an ambush injured two firefighters responding to an emergency in a housing project, the state prefect on the French island said Saturday.
Prefect Christophe Mirmand said police reinforcements were being called into the Corsican capital of Ajaccio from mainland France, and prayer rooms and mosques were being guarded.
Two separate investigations were opened, one into the attack on firefighters Thursday and the other into the damage to the prayer room Friday, he said on iTele TV station.
Tensions were high on the Mediterranean island, widely known in France as the Isle of Beauty.
The violence began Thursday night, when firefighters responding to an emergency call were ambushed in a housing project in the hills of Ajaccio. It was not clear what prompted that violence.
On Friday, a gathering of about 600 people that started as a show of support for the injured emergency officials led to more violence when several dozen people broke away, headed to the prayer room. There, they threw objects and tried to burn Qurans and prayer books, officials said. They also vandalized a kebab shop.
"All these events are linked," Mirmand said.
Video showed some in the group shouting "this is our home" before the prayer room was damaged.
France's Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, called Friday for respect for French law after "the intolerable aggression toward firefighters and unacceptable profanation of a Muslim place of prayer."
France's interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, condemned those responsible for going after firefighters. He also said the "intolerable exactions" against the place of worship carried the "odor of racism and xenophobia" and would not go unpunished.
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."
Local authorities including Christophe Mirmand, the prefect or top official of Corsica, also vowed to arrest those responsible for the outbreak of violence over two days on the Mediterranean island.
The Christmas violence came amid heightened security measures for the season in France after the November 13 attacks by jihadists in Paris that killed 130 people.
Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, said he was "dismayed and saddened" by the events on Corsica in an appearance on France's BFMTV, calling for "calm and cool heads".
Around 120,000 French police, members of armed units and soldiers were mobilised on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Corsica is a department of France which held regional elections earlier this month, which had seen the far-right anti-immigrant Front National make unprecedented gains in the first round of the vote.
On Corsica the nationalists won the regional election there taking power for the first time.