Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin says 76 mosques out of more than 2,600 Muslim places of worship have been flagged as possible threats to French values and security.
French authorities have said the country will swoop on dozens of mosques and Muslim prayer halls suspected of "radical" teachings as part of a crackdown on "extremists."
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told RTL radio on Thursday that if any prayer hall was found to promote "extremism" it would be closed down.
Earlier on Twitter, Darmanin said, "Seventy-six mosques suspected of separatism will be checked in the coming days and those that will have to be closed will be."
The right-wing minister, however, told RTL the fact that only a fraction of the around 2,600 Muslim places of worship in France were suspected of peddling radical theories showed "we are far from a situation of widespread radicalisation."
"Nearly all Muslims in France respect the laws of the Republic and are hurt by that (radicalisation)," he said.
The inspections to be carried out on Thursday afternoon are part of a response to two attacks in France — the beheading of a teacher who showed his pupils caricatures insulting Prophet Muhammad and the stabbing to death of three people in a church in Nice.
76 mosquées sont aujourd’hui soupçonnées de séparatisme.— Gérald DARMANIN (@GDarmanin) December 3, 2020
Dans les prochains jours, des contrôles vont être menés sur ces lieux de culte.
Si jamais ces doutes sont confirmés, je demanderai leur fermeture. pic.twitter.com/Mq8DGnB2Pr
In what the minister described as a "massive and unprecedented" wave of measures to combat religious extremism, state services will be monitoring and controlling 76 Muslim places of worship, 16 in the Paris region and 60 in the rest of France.
According to Le Figaro newspaper, Darmanin sent a circular to the country’s governors on the inspection of the mosques.
Following the murder of teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb in October, raids and pressure on Muslim associations and mosques have increased.
Darmanin said on November 3 that 43 mosques have been closed in the last three years since President Emmanuel Macron took office.
Largest population of European Muslims
France is home to the largest population of Muslims in Europe and Islam is the second-largest religion practiced in the country after Catholicism.
The international community was shocked by the knifing of two people outside the former offices of French weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in September, the beheading of Paty on October 16 and the brutal killing of three people inside Nice's Notre Dame Basilica on October 29.
The attacks prompted French officials to find a scapegoat and Muslims were targeted.
President Macron's government has responded to several deadly terror attacks in recent weeks with a promise to crack down on what some public officials have called "the enemy within."
Muslims report feeling excluded, stigmatised
Critics say Macron's government is exploiting the spate of violence to intensify his controversial anti-Muslim stance.
French people of Arab origin are committed to the French values of secularism, yet they are stigmatised and feel excluded due to the ethnic origin of their names, a recent opinion poll showed.
The survey was conducted by the daily Arab News in French in cooperation with YouGov – an internet-based research firm – which said 51 percent of the respondents felt excluded from French society.
The poll suggests the largest minority group in France suffer from lack of acceptance, even stigmatisation, Arab News reported.