By CHRISTIAN RICKARDS CHRISTIAN RAICHARDS / NYT / July 13, 2019 / 20:26:12Christians have been in the crosshairs of anti-Muslim hate crimes since the deadly Paris attacks.
Nowhere is this more evident than in a small town in northern France, where a mosque and community center has been targeted by Islamic radicals who have vowed to burn it to the ground.
“When I went to the mosque, they told me there was a fire and it would burn me,” said Tarek, who is originally from Iraq.
“But I went inside and saw flames coming out of the roof.”
Tarek said he was one of the first people to be killed by the fire, which he believed was a result of his presence.
“There were hundreds of people inside, and then they started shooting at us,” he said.
“They shot a gun at us, then they went in and set the fire.”
He said the attackers took refuge inside the building and were shot dead by police, who he said had acted bravely.
The French authorities, meanwhile, have launched a massive investigation into the attack and are calling for calm in the town.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said a local official.
“We don’t know who it is or what they are planning, and we’re going to need all the help we can get.”
But this is no time to relax.
“This is a very dangerous situation,” said the mayor of La Meute, the town near the mosque.
“If this continues, it’s going to get worse.”
In a sign of the intensity of the situation, authorities have also ordered an evacuation of the surrounding villages of Puy-de-Dôme, Bresse, and St-Cyr.
They have asked for help from France’s large Christian community.
The attack comes as France struggles to come to terms with a wave of anti of Islamic hate crime and the threat of more attacks in coming weeks.
On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron called on all French citizens to stand up against anti-Semitism and hatred.
He said that “if there is an ideology that seeks to divide us, we have to reject it.”
He has also said he would resign if the country cannot “do better.”
The city of Montpellier has been on edge since the attack.
On Sunday, thousands of people rallied at the church to demand that the church be destroyed.
“The police and security services are doing a great job, but what we have here is a threat,” said one man, who gave his name only as Emmanuel.
“I think it’s the first time we’ve seen the scale of the attacks.”
The attack occurred after two men in a car drove up and opened fire on people on the sidewalk, killing one person and wounding six others.
On Monday, the city’s mayor said that the townspeople were being told to be on high alert.
“The town is under a state of emergency,” Jean-Pierre Lebrun told France Info radio.
“You’re going on alert because there’s a terrorist threat, and you need to prepare for it.”
The mayor also said that local authorities were sending out an emergency alert.
On Monday, a local government official in charge of security said that police had detained more than 200 people in connection with the attack, including members of a pro-Islamic State organization.
“We are trying to find out who they are, and who is behind this, but they are not answering the phone,” the official told AFP news agency.