Gun and grenade attacks outside at least two French mosques heightened fear Thursday of an anti-Muslim backlash after a military-style assault on a newspaper that satirizes Islam, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The attack on the newsweekly came as far-right parties have been gaining in popularity not only in France but also in Germany, Britain, Greece and elsewhere, feeding the anti-immigrant sentiments on which they thrive.
With tension building, Muslim community leaders advised veiled women to avoid going out alone and urged their members to join in a national minute of silence for the victims of Wednesday's attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
"Anyone who associates this criminal act with Islam is mistaken. It is an act of terrorism. The perpetrators of this act should be arrested, condemned and eradicated," Abdallah Zekri, president of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia, told reporters at the Grand Mosque of Paris.
While expressing sympathy for the victims, he noted that it is often Muslims who suffer after such attacks. "Whenever something like this happens, we are on the front lines as scapegoats," he said. "There have been a number of attacks already this year."
The incidents outside mosques in Le Mans, southwest of Paris, and in Villefranche-sur-Saone, near Lyon — neither of which caused injury — suggested that anti-Muslim retribution had already begun, he said.
“We're all in danger now. In the shops, in the bus," an Algerian-born grandmother, Algdia Henneche, told the Associated Press. "I've brought up seven children here. France is multicultural — we welcome all countries. Now for my grandchildren, what will happen?”
While President François Hollande called for national unity, leaders of the far-right National Front demanded that he step up measures to tackle Islamic fundamentalism and bring back the death penalty.
"The time for denial and hypocrisy is no longer possible," party leader Marine Le Pen said in a video on her party's website. "The absolute rejection of Islamic fundamentalism must be proclaimed loudly and clearly."
The National Front and other anti-immigrant groups have gained ground in Europe, propelled by a moribund economy, high unemployment rates and frustration with mainstream parties.
Recent surveys show Le Pen would outpoll Hollande and center-right challengers if the 2017 election were held now. Her party led all French parties in the European Parliament elections, picked up two seats in the French Senate and took power in 11 French towns.