A Belgian court has refused to extradite a radical imam who fled France to escape deportation.
Hassan Iquioussen, an imam with a history of making inflammatory comments about Jews, was arrested in Belgium in September pursuant to a European arrest warrant that was issued after he went on the run in the wake of a court ruling in France permitting the French Government to deport him.
This week, a Belgian court upheld a ruling dismissing a request from France for Mr Iquioussen’s extradition.
The decision is the latest episode in the saga of Mr Iquioussen’s deportation. Previously, the French authorities struggled to persuade French courts to permit them to deport the imam. The French Government even vowed to change the law in order to be able to deport him, but that became no longer necessary after a decision from France’s Conseil d’Etat, the supreme court for administrative justice, which overturned a previous ruling that suspended Mr Iquioussen’s deportation order.
That final decision rejected the claims of Mr Iquioussen’s defence that deporting the imam to Morocco would not be a disproportionate interference with his right to lead a normal previous and family life.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who has previously said that Mr Iquioussen is an enemy of France who had “no place” in the country, hailed the decision as “a big victory for the Republic,” adding of the imam: “He will be deported from national soil.”
The imam then fled France and was found in Belgium, where he currently remains.
Mr Iquioussen is a Moroccan citizen who has lived in France all his life but who has become a symbol of President Emmanuel Macron’s battle against Islamism, whom the President accuses of rejecting French laws and values. He did not take up French citizenship at a younger age and his attempts to do so since then have failed.
During the court hearings, prosecutors highlighted statements allegedly made by Mr Iquioussen in 2003 and 2004 in which he described Jews as “miserly usurers” and claimed that Zionists had “connived with Hitler…to push Jews to leave Germany”. He also reportedly said: “The Zionists said…there has to be someone in Europe who does bad things to Jews so that they…will leave [for Israel].” They also noted a conference in 2012 at which Mr Iquioussen allegedly described terrorist attacks in the West as “pseudo-attacks whose objective is to frighten non-Muslims so that they are afraid of Islam and of Muslims,” and claimed that he has also publicly denied the 1915 Armenian genocide and pointed to allegedly misogynistic comments.
In a post on Facebook, Mr Iquioussen “strongly contested” the allegations that he had used “discriminatory or violent language.” His supporters argue that the comments cited in the case were dated and taken out of context, and pointed to other statements by the imam, such as: “We have never had, and have, nothing against Jews because Islam is a religion based on justice.”
Mr Iquioussen had said that he was considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, before fleeing the jurisdiction.
Campaign Against Antisemitism reports on news and incidents relating to antisemitism in France, Belgium and throughout Europe.