4 ex-directors of French Shia Muslim centre arrested

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Four ex-directors of a Shia Muslim centre in France have been arrested over concerns they continued to run the organisation despite it being disbanded by authorities in March last year, Agence France Presse (AFP) reports.

The four directors were taken into custody on Tuesday. Three have been remanded in custody, while one was freed over health concerns.

French prosecutors are reportedly investigating the four men for “participation in or maintenance of a dissolved association”, AFP quoted local sources as saying.

The centre was disbanded last year over allegations members were inciting armed jihadism and condoning the actions of regional players, such as Hezbollah, designated as terrorist organisations by the French government.

According to the report, members of the centre also propagated hate speech and anti-Semitism, as well as inciting violence.

The French court, which confirmed the centre’s closure after an appeal last June, said the activities of the organisation amounted to “propaganda intended to glorify the armed struggle and to provoke hatred and violence”, Le Monde reported.

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“In the Zahra Centre, sermons are given which call for a fight against Zionism, against Israel and against Saudi Arabia and which, for some, legitimised armed jihad”, the French daily quoted court officials as saying.

According to the AFP report, the four continued preaching at the Zahra Centre’s site in northern France as well as on social media, despite last year’s order to cease and desist, leading to their arrests.

The Zahra Centre was founded in 2009 by Yahia Gouasmi, an Algerian-born Frenchman who also established an anti-Zionist political party in France in the same year. He is believed to have frequently spoken in support of Hezbollah, according to AFP.

The Zahra Centre was also subject to police scrutiny in October 2018, when local authorities raided the group’s headquarters over suspicions of links to terrorist organisations, Reuters reported.

At least 200 police officers, including elite troopers from Paris, took part in the pre-dawn raid on the Zahra Centre, discovering and seizing a cache of illegal weapons. Three people were remanded in custody over the discovery and the organisation’s French financial assets were frozen.

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