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30 Apr, 2016 16:19

Muslim prayer hall in Corsica ravaged by blaze

Muslim prayer hall in Corsica ravaged by blaze

A Muslim prayer hall on the French island of Corsica has suffered extensive damage in a fire that is possibly a case of arson.

The fire happened at around 4:30 local time on Saturday morning in a Muslim prayer hall in the capital city of Ajaccio, in Corse-du-Sud, local media reported.

Fire fighters were called at about 5am by worshippers who had gathered to attend the morning service. No one was injured, according to first reports.

The cause of the fire is yet to be established, but prosecutors say the hall was probably set ablaze intentionally.

“This is unacceptable. Those sites are not sufficiently protected,” Ajaccio Mayor Laurent Marcangeli told the iTELE newschannel.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has expressed “solidarity with the Muslims of Corsica” in an official statement. He emphasized the “commitment of the government to protect all places of worship, and to ensure freedom of worship throughout the territory,” according to AFP.

Local authorities should “do everything to shed light on this incident, to avoid an escalation of violence,” said Abdallah Zekri, the head of the National Observatory Against Islamophobia.

“It has been calm since the end of the year, but unfortunately certain ill-intentioned people want to inflame the situation,” he said in an interview with AFP.

A wave of protests swept through Corsica over the Christmas period after police and firefighters were attacked when they were called to a predominantly Muslim neighborhood.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in December carrying banners and shouting slogans such as “This is our home!” and “Arabs get out”. Another prayer hall was ransacked at the time and some copies of the Koran were burnt, which was described as “an unacceptable desecration” by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls. The government pledged to punish the perpetrators, stressing there was no place for “racism and xenophobia” in France.

READ MORE: Dozens take part in fresh anti-Muslim protest in Corsica after attack on prayer hall (VIDEO)

Corsica, a small Mediterranean island famous for its beaches and popular among tourists, has seen an increase in nationalist sentiment following the Islamic State terrorist attacks in November that claimed the lives of 130 people.

Anti-immigrant and nationalist parties have enjoyed public support during the recent regional elections, which gave the island its first-ever nationalist government.

Corsica has the second largest immigrant population in French jurisdiction after Paris – around 10 percent of the total population.